In Florida, stalking is a crime. But what exactly does the offense entail? Florida Statute 784.048 defines it as following, harassing, or cyberstalking another person. Additionally, the person must have engaged in the unlawful conduct willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly.
Let's explore each of those terms in more detail to gain a deeper understanding of what's considered stalking:
- "Following" means to track another person's movements.
- "Harassing" is defined as doing a specific act over time indicating a pattern of behavior. The conduct must be such that it causes the person subject to it to feel "substantial emotional distress."
- “Cyberstalking” is when someone either uses electronic communication to transmit words or images to another or gains unauthorized access to another person's online accounts or computer system. As with harassment, the alleged victim must have suffered "substantial emotional distress" because of the conduct.
- “Willfully” means the person knew what they were doing and intentionally and purposely engaged in the act.
- “Maliciously” is when a person has evil intent or no legal reason for doing something.
- “Repeatedly” is doing something more than once, or constantly.
Stalking is a first-degree misdemeanor. The conviction penalties include up to 1 year in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. If a person is convicted of aggravated stalking, a third-degree felony, the punishments increase substantially. The maximum term of imprisonment bumps up to 5 years, and the fine is up to $5,000. So what type of behavior could result in a person facing these enhanced penalties?
The Four Instances of Aggravated Stalking
The charge of stalking can be elevated to aggravated stalking in 4 ways:
- Credible threat: If a person stalks someone and, while doing so, they make a credible threat, they could be charged with aggravated stalking. A credible threat is one that makes the individual it's directed a fear for their safety or for the safety of someone close to them. Additionally, they must believe that the person making the threat could actually carry it out. However, it doesn't matter if the person intended to follow through with the threat.
- Injunction entered: In some situations, an individual may seek an order of protection against another person to prevent them from engaging in harmful behaviors. If a person knows they're subject to an injunction and they stalk the individual named in it, they are committing aggravated stalking.
- Victim is a minor: An aggravated stalking charge can also be triggered when the person being stalked was under 16 years of age.
- No contact order: At the time of sentencing in some sex crimes cases, a judge may issue a no contact order against the defendant, prohibiting them from communicating with the victim in any way. If, while under this order, the defendant stalks the victim, they may be accused of aggravated stalking.
At Hager & Schwartz, P.A., our Daytona Beach attorneys are here to help those facing criminal charges. To learn how we can assist with your case, call us at (386) 693-1637 or contact us online. Your initial consultation is free.