Can I Go To Jail For Looking at a Website?

June 4, 2024 Criminal Defense, Sex Crimes

computer in dark room

In Florida, browsing the internet, even if you stumble upon unlawful content, this normally does not qualify as a criminal offense. However, there are conditions where certain actions someone takes while visiting a site can result in charges.

First Amendment and Freedom of Speech

The First Amendment to the Constitution protects freedom of speech, which extends to having access to data online. Merely searching at an internet site, regardless of its content material, is protected by the Constitution.

Florida’s justice system considers mens rea (intent) for most offenses when deciding whether to charge someone, so simply viewing content is not enough to warrant legal action. The key lies in what you do with the records or the way you engage with the site.

Potentially Illegal Activities 

There are a few scenarios in which interaction with websites can result in charges:

  • Downloading Illegal Content: Possessing child pornography, or unlawful drugs received online are crimes in Florida. Statutes like F.S. § 847.0135 (Possession of Sexual Performance via a Minor) and F.S. § 812.081 (Copyright Infringement) deal with these charges.
  • Engaging in Criminal Activity on Websites: Participating in unlawful activities facilitated through websites, like soliciting drugs on the dark web or using a website to coordinate a theft, can lead to charges. 
  • Cyberbullying or Threats: Florida takes cyberbullying severely. F.S. § 784.048 defines stalking and harassment as that which results in online threats or continual harassment through digital messaging.

Websites Hosting Illegal Content

While simply viewing a website is usually not an issue, knowledge of the website’s illegal purpose can be a contributing factor in supporting charges. If you visit a website that is known to host child pornography or facilitate illegal activity, it can be used as evidence of possible criminal activity, especially if you visit multiple times.

Limits On Free Speech

The First Amendment has limitations. Some forms of speech, including incitement to violence or actual threats, can be criminalized. However, simply expressing a controversial opinion on the web will not meet this standard.

Florida law protects your right to free access to the Internet. However, engaging in illegal activity or possessing illegal material found online can have serious consequences.

Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer in Tallahassee, Florida

Being arrested in Florida can be extremely stressful. Being charged and “formally charged” by information in Tallahassee or Leon County, Wakulla County, Jefferson County, Gadsden County , Quincy, Crawfordville, Florida State University, Tallahassee Community College, or Florida A&M University can be life changing. Given the possibility of a lengthy jail or prison sentence and hefty financial penalties, it is important to contact an aggressive, trusted and experienced Tallahassee criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

Don Pumphrey, Jr. and the attorneys at Pumphrey Law have decades of experience fighting on behalf of clients and winning. Call Pumphrey Law now at (850) 681-7777 to learn more about what we can do for you. Our lawyers will be happy to provide you with a free consultation.

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