While it may seem that you are not breaking the law when following or harassing a person, stalking is a criminal offense in Florida. And as such, this activity can have severe consequences. Given that this term may be overused, you may wonder what constitutes stalking in Florida.
According to Florida law, stalking occurs when someone follows or harasses another person repeatedly and maliciously. Stalking involves a pattern of activities directed at someone which can cause a reasonable fear for their safety. This offense can also take place through the use of electronic devices.
Since many Floridians may not be aware of the severity of this crime, in the following sections, we will provide you with crucial information about stalking laws in Florida. Additionally, we will explain what these charges mean and some of the consequences associated with this offense.
If you have been arrested for stalking in Florida, you should seek legal advice from an experienced criminal defense attorney. At Goldman Wetzel, we know that your future and freedom may be at stake. Do not hesitate to get in touch to schedule a free consultation today.
Charges for Stalking in Florida
Statute §784.048 encompasses Florida stalking laws. According to this legislation, stalking is a pattern of behavior and activities directed at someone in particular. These actions take place over a period of time and, since they do not have a legitimate purpose, cause fear to the victim.
Some common examples of stalking include, but are not limited to:
- Following the victim
- Making verbal or nonverbal threats to harm the victim or his/her family
- Calling the victim repeatedly and without a legitimate reason
- Repeated damage to personal property
- Harassing the victim by using electronic devices or engaging in different activities
- Leaving unwanted gifts or notes
Even though you may think that stalking only involves some sort of physical proximity, Florida stalking laws establish that this crime can also take place through electronic communication. This is known as cyberstalking and it is also a criminal offense in Florida.
In addition to using electronic communication to harass a person, Florida Statute §784.048(d) also establishes that you can be charged with cyberstalking if you access or try to access people’s online accounts or home electric systems without their permission.
In Florida, a simple stalking charge can escalate to aggravated stalking under the following circumstances:
- The victim has an injunction for protection against you
- The victim is a child under 16 years of age
- Stalking and making credible threats to the victim
- The defendant was convicted of committing a sexual battery offense against the victim
Florida Department of Law Enforcement reports that in 2019 there were 343 arrests for simple stalking and 97 for aggravated stalking. Both offenses can lead to imprisonment and expensive fines. Therefore, if you were accused of stalking in Florida, you should consult a criminal defense attorney.
What is the statute of limitations for stalking in FL?
In Florida, a charge for simple stalking has a statute of limitations of two years. However, the prosecution has three years to file an aggravated stalking case since it is more serious. The statute of limitations begins on the date the stalking crime took place.
If this period ends and the prosecution does not pursue the case, they will no longer be able to take any action against the defendant. When it comes to stalking charges in Florida, you should consider that the police do not need a warrant to arrest you. If law enforcement has reason to believe that you stalked a person, they can arrest you.
FL Penalties for Stalking
As established before, stalking is actually a criminal offense in Florida. This means that if a defendant is found guilty of this crime, he or she will have to serve the sentence established by the court. The severity of the penalties depends on how severe the charge for stalking was.
For example, simple stalking and cyberstalking are considered a misdemeanor of the first degree. As a result, a conviction for this crime can result in up to one year of jail time and a maximum fine of $1,000. Aggravated stalking, on the other hand, is classified as a third degree felony. This type of charge can lead to 5 years of imprisonment and a fine of up to $5,000.
In addition to these penalties, if the alleged victim filed an injunction for protection against you, you will face other significant consequences that will be discussed in the section below.
Consequences of having an injunction for stalking
In Florida, victims of stalking have the right to file an injunction (commonly known as a restraining order) to protect themselves from these actions. If someone issued an injunction for protection against you, you have to abide by the restrictions set in this document.
Some examples of consequences of having an injunction for protection against you include, but are not limited to:
- Not being allowed to own or have a gun
- Have no communication with the petitioner
- Avoid getting close to the petitioner’s location
Depending on the circumstances of the case, the judge may set specific restrictions in the injunction. As mentioned above, violating an injunction for protection can result in an aggravated stalking charge.
How Can a Person Prove Stalking in Florida?
In order to be charged with stalking, the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that you engaged in this activity. To do so, the following elements must be taken into account:
- Course of conduct: unlike many offenses, stalking is not an isolated incident but rather a pattern of behavior or activities. This means that the prosecution must prove that you performed numerous actions to harass or stalk a person.
- Intent: according to the Florida definition of stalking, it needs to be proved that the defendant actually had the intention to maliciously harass or follow a person without having a legitimate purpose.
- Presence of threats: stalking in Florida also implies the presence of credible threats that causes the alleged victim to fear for his or her safety. It is important to consider that, under this definition, threats can be both verbal and nonverbal.
A stalking accusation can be challenging because the victim’s fear and emotional distress are subjective. However, a criminal defense lawyer in Florida may be better prepared to build your defense and present arguments in your favor.
Book a Free Consultation with a Criminal Lawyer
Although a charge for stalking in Florida may not seem very severe, a conviction for this crime can result in hefty fines and incarceration. Therefore, if you were accused of stalking someone, you should contact a criminal defense attorney.
Goldman Wetzel is a Tampa Bay criminal defense law firm with offices in Tampa, Bradenton, and St. Petersburg, FL. With over 20 years of experience, our team of lawyers can provide you with solid and comprehensive legal representation. Call (727) 828-3900 today or send us a message to schedule a free consultation.