A person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows or harasses another person in Florida can be charged with the offense of stalking. While stalking is primarily thought of as the unwanted physical presence of an alleged offender, the digital age has transformed the ways in which alleged victims can be followed and harassed through electronic means.
Unwanted communications through cell phones, online messages, or social media may be considered cyberstalking in Florida. A cyberstalking offense is considered a crime of domestic violence that can result in an injunction for protection being issued against the alleged offender as well severe penalties that may include possible fines and imprisonment.
Lawyer for Cyberstalking in Tallahassee, Florida
Have you been arrested or do you think that you are being investigated for an alleged cyberstalking offense in Florida? You should decline to make any kind of statement until you have legal representation.
The Tallahassee criminal defense attorneys of Pumphrey Law are dedicated to pursuing the most favorable outcomes for clients all over Madison County, Taylor County, Leon County, Calhoun County, Gulf County, and Jackson County. You can call (850) 681-7777 or complete an online contact form to receive a full review of your case during a free consultation.
Leon County Cyberstalking Information Center
- What are the possible consequences of a conviction for cyberstalking?
- How is cyberstalking different from aggravated cyberstalking?
- Are there federal laws against cyberstalking?
- Where can I learn more about cyberstalking?
Cyberstalking is defined under Florida Statute § 784.048(1)(d) as engaging in “a course of conduct to communicate, or to cause to be communicated, words, images, or language by or through the use of electronic mail or electronic communication, directed at a specific person, causing substantial emotional distress to that person and serving no legitimate purpose.” Cyberstalking offenses are generally subject to the same penalties as traditional stalking crimes.
If an alleged offender willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly cyberstalks an alleged victim, it is a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. Like many other state laws for cyberstalking, Florida provides no definition for substantial emotional distress, which has left the meaning open to some interpretation of various state courts.
In its 1998 decision in Wallace v. Van Pelt, the Missouri Court of Appeals interpreted the phrase to mean that “the offending conduct must produce a considerable or significant amount of emotional distress in a reasonable person; something markedly greater than the level of uneasiness, nervousness, unhappiness or the like which are commonly experienced in day to day living.” The following year, the California Court of Appeal for the Fourth District ruled in People v. Ewing, “At the very least, we can safely assume that the phrase means something more than everyday mental distress or upset. In other words, the phrase ‘substantial emotional distress’ entails a serious invasion of the victim's mental tranquility.”
Alleged offenders can be charged with aggravated stalking in Florida if they do any of the following:
- Willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly cyberstalk an alleged victim and make a credible threat to that alleged victim;
- Knowingly, willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly cyberstalk an alleged victim after an injunction for protection against repeat violence, sexual violence, dating violence, or domestic violence, or after any other court-imposed prohibition of conduct toward the alleged offender or that person’s property;
- Willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly cyberstalks a child under 16 years of age;
- Willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly cyberstalks an alleged victim after having been sentenced for sexual battery, lewd or lascivious offenses, or prohibited computer transmissions and was prohibited from contacting the alleged victim of the offense under an order of no contact.
A credible threat is defined under Florida Statute § 784.048(1)(c) as a verbal or nonverbal threat—or a combination of the two—including threats delivered by electronic communication or implied by a pattern of conduct, which places the alleged victim in reasonable fear for his or her safety or the safety of his or her family members or individuals closely associated with the person, and which is made with the apparent ability to carry out the threat to cause such harm. A prosecutor does not need to prove that the alleged offender making the threat had the intent to actually carry out the threat.
Aggravated cyberstalking is a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison and/or a fine of up to $5,000.
If an alleged offender intended to cross or state lines to carry out a credible threat or an alleged cyberstalking offense involved communication transmitted through interstate or foreign commerce, the crime could be subject to federal prosecution. The three primary federal statutes under which cyberstalking charges may be brought include:
- Stalking, 18 U.S. Code § 2261A — If an alleged offender, with the intent to kill, injure, harass, intimidate, or place under surveillance with intent to kill, injure, harass, or intimidate another person, uses any interactive computer service or electronic communication service or electronic communication system of interstate commerce that places an alleged victim in reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury, or causes, attempts to cause, or would be reasonably expected to cause substantial emotional distress, this offense is punishable by a fine and up to life in prison if the alleged violation results in the death of the alleged victim, 20 years in prison if the alleged victim suffers permanent disfigurement or life threatening bodily injury, 10 years in prison if the alleged victim suffers serious bodily injury or the alleged offender uses a dangerous weapon during the offense, or five years in prison for all other cases.
- Interstate communications, 18 U.S. Code § 875 — If an alleged offender transmits in interstate or foreign commerce any communication containing any threat to injure an alleged victim, this offense is punishable by a up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
- Obscene or harassing telephone calls in the District of Columbia or in interstate or foreign communications, 47 U.S Code § 223 — If an alleged offender uses a telephone or telecommunications device to annoy, abuse, harass, or threaten an alleged victim, this offense is punishable by up to two years in prison.
Tracking Cyberstalkers: A Cryptographic Approach — In 2005, researchers at Florida State University and members of the Florida Cybersecurity Institute built a hardware and software prototype called the Predator and Prey Alert (PAPA) system to help law enforcement agents thwart cyberstalking. "Cyberstalking is becoming an increasing problem, but it has been difficult to do anything about it," Computer science Professor Sudhir Aggarwal said in a press release about the forensic toolkit designed to provide high-quality evidence for the prosecution of cyberstalking cases. "The anonymity of the Internet makes it easier to do than physical stalking. Stalkers used to use the phone or show up on your doorstep; now they can use a computer." In September 2005, Computer & Society Magazine published this paper by FSU Computer Science professor Mike Burmester and then-FSU graduate students Peter Henry and Leo S. Kermes that defines the threat model in terms of a profile of the cyberstalker, legal and law enforcement constraints, and describes a monitoring system addressing the basic security requirements of the threat model by capturing and verifying circumstantial evidence for use in cyberstalking investigations.
FSU Computer Science Department
1017 Academic Way
Tallahassee, FL 32304
FightCyberstalking.org — You can find information on reporting a cyberstalker, online privacy tips, and tips for safer use of social networking sites on this website. FightCyberstalking.org also provides ways for cyberstalking victims to get emotional support. You can also find tips for helping save evidence so authorities can catch your cyberstalker.
Find a Lawyer for Cyberstalking Defense in Tallahassee, FL
If you believe that you could be the target of a criminal investigation or you have already been arrested for an alleged cyberstalking offense, it is in your best interest to refuse to say anything until you have legal counsel. Pumphrey Law represents clients accused of many crimes of domestic violence and fights to get criminal charges reduced or dismissed.
Our experienced Tallahassee criminal defense attorneys defend residents of communities in and around Leon County, including Perry, Port St. Joe, Wewahitchka, Blountstown, Graceville, Malone, Marianna, and many more. You can receive a complete evaluation of your case during a free, confidential consultation as soon as you call (850) 681-7777 or fill out an online contact form.
This article was last updated on Thursday, August 4, 2016
Attorney Don Pumphrey Jr. is a former prosecutor, former law enforcement officer, and a successful and experienced criminal defense attorney.