Many of the violent and nonviolent crimes described in the Florida criminal code have been recognized in the United States and other countries for centuries. By contrast, the first anti -stalking law was passed in California in 1990. Within just a few years, all fifty states and the District of Columbia enacted some form of stalking law. While the specifics of these laws vary, the purposes of each are the same:
- To stop disturbing or harassing behavior that is disrupting the victim’s normal life; and
- To prevent such behavior from escalating into assault or other violent acts
Florida’s statute defines stalking as willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly following or harassing a person. Some behaviors that may support a charge of stalking are repeated phone calls after a request to cease contact, sending numerous undesired gifts or, most commonly, following the victim or loitering around his or her residence or place of employment. Unpleasant, obscene or otherwise unpleasant – but not violent or threatening – behavior are not sufficient, though they may support the less serious charge of harassment. Constitutional challenges based on the vague definitions in the statute or the argument that it infringes on free speech rights generally have been unsuccessful.
Depending on the nature of the harassment, the stalking will qualify as either a misdemeanor or felony.
Misdemeanor stalking in the first degree involves conduct that causes the victim significant emotional distress. In addition to in person or telephone contact, it can take the form of so-called “cyberstalking” through the use of electronic communication such as email or through a social media website such as Facebook. A first degree misdemeanor stalking conviction carries a possible prison sentence of up to one year.
Felony stalking involves the same type of unwanted contact, but with the addition of some threat of violence. The threat must be one that would cause a reasonable person to fear for his life or safety. A threat against the family of the immediate stalking victim’s may also result in a felony stalking charge. A conviction is punishable by imprisonment for a term of up to five years.
In Florida, a victim of actual or threatened domestic violence or harassment may be able to obtain an injunction ordering the abuser to refrain from contacting the victim in any way. If a stalker subject to such an injunction makes a threat against the life of the victim or threatens serious bodily injury, he or she can be charged with aggravated stalking, a felony punishable by imprisonment for a term up to five years.
A successful defense of stalking charges requires a deep understanding of the law and a thorough investigation of the victim’s specific allegations. While many claims of stalking are well-founded, some are the result of improper motives, such as revenge against a current or former spouse or partner or as a means of gaining negotiating leverage in a divorce proceeding. The attorneys at Orner Law, LLC have many years of collective experience in aggressively defending South Florida residents against a variety of serious crimes.