04 May What is the Definition of Stalking Under Florida Law?
When stalking comes to mind, we often picture dark hooded people lurking in the shadows, watching our every move. While stalking can look like this in some cases, it can take a multitude of other forms as well. Stalking is a serious criminal charge and should never be taken lightly. If you or someone you know is a victim of stalking, for your personal safety, it’s crucial to contact the authorities and an excellent attorney. Stalking can look different depending on the situation.
In talking about stalking, there are several terms to identify and understand. The first of these terms is harass. To harass means to act in a way that causes significant emotional distress towards a particular individual for no reason. The next term, course of conduct, represents a pattern of behavior that is established over a period of time, regardless of length of time, and creates a continued purpose. The third term to consider is a credible threat. A credible threat includes either a verbal or non-verbal threat (or both) either delivered to the individual in writing, electronically or by a pattern of personal behavior. In order for a threat to be credible, the individual targeted by the threat must have a reasonable fear for their safety or the safety of their family members or other associations. Reasonable fear speaks to ability and possibility that the threats can be carried out by the individual who is sending them. It’s important to understand the difference between an idle threat and a credible threat. Credible threats are of actions that are likely to occur. Idle threats should not be taken lightly, however, the possibility of action taken on them is very slim.
What is Stalking?
The act of stalking encompasses willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly following and harassing a targeted individual. This offense represents a misdemeanor of the first degree. Stalking can be very obvious from the start if the offender continues to make their presence known. Or, it can be very mysterious. Often people don’t realize they’ve been stalked for several days after the stalking began. Sometimes the court will consider repeated, harassing phone calls or written letters as methods of stalking.
What is Cyber Stalking?
With the extensive use of technology in today’s world, cyber stalking has become particularly common. The term cyberstalk means to direct electronic communication that causes significant emotional distress towards a particular individual for no apparent reason. This electronic communication can come in the form of words, images, different languages, e-mail, text message or any other electronic means of delivering messages. Given the high-frequency use of text messaging, e-mailing and instant messaging, it’s not surprising to find that cyber stalking crimes have grown exponentially in the last several years. As opposed to another stalking that may be difficult to prove, cyber stalking does provide hard evidence of the crime taking place. Cyber stalking is often easier to track. Because of technology advances, IP addresses can be traced and the cyber stalker can be identified via their computer or other devices.
What is Aggravated Stalking?
Aggravated stalking is defined as when an individual willfully, maliciously and repeatedly follows, harasses or cyberstalks another individual as well as makes a credible threat to that individual. Aggravated stalking is taken very seriously and represents a felony of the third degree. As mentioned above, a credible threat is one that causes the victim significant fear for the threat could very well be carried out.
Stalking Children and Adolescents
While all stalking crimes are handled with utmost care, crimes committed against children are particularly concerning. The stalking of children and adolescents is taken very seriously. Any individual who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses or cyberstalks an individual under the age of 16 commits the crime of aggravated stalking that represents a felony of the third degree. Any law enforcement officer may arrest an individual suspected of this crime with probable cause and without a warrant.
No Contact Order
Any individual who has been sentenced for violating any of the above is strictly prohibited from contacting the victim of the offense. Should the offender violate this no contact order, the offender commits the crime of aggravated stalking that is a felony of the third degree.
The court will determine sentencing after conviction of the crime. Any punishment for the crimes listed above will run alongside any previous sentences or convictions. As part of sentencing, the court will consider a restraining order, barring the offender from any contact with the victim. This restraining order can be valid for up to 10 years or as identified by the court. The length of the restraining order is dependent upon the severity of the facts as presented to the court as well as the likelihood of future violations and that victim’s safety. The restraining order will still be placed whether or not the offender is incarcerated.
The State of Florida does not take any stalking offenses lightly. All issues of stalking are taken very seriously, and individuals convicted of this crime are punished. If you are the victim of stalking, it’s crucial to contact the authorities to protect your safety. After contacting the authorities, getting in touch with a family law attorney is the next step. Ensure that your case is handled appropriately, seek legal advice from a qualified family law attorney.