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Cyberstalking

Domestic violence defense attorney Tallahassee, Florida

While stalking is primarily thought of as the continuous unwanted physical presence of another person, the digital age has transformed the ways in which alleged victims can be followed and harassed through electronic means. When a person is accused of willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly following or harassing another person over the internet, they can be charged with the offense of cyberstalking.

Unwanted communications through cell phones, online messages, or social media may be prosecuted in Florida as a cyberstalking crime. The offense can be considered a crime of domestic violence that can result in an injunction for protection being issued against the alleged offender. However, cyberstalking can also occur between strangers who interact over the internet. Regardless of the conduct that resulted in the arrest, you should be aware of the severe penalties that come with a conviction.

If you or a loved one are being prosecuted by state or federal law for accusations of cyberstalking, a Tallahassee, FL Criminal defense attorney can help guide you through the legal process and help establish possible defenses.

Defense 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. Keep in mind that these types of offenses will be prosecuted harshly, given their emotionally distressing nature to the alleged victim. If you are facing a stalking or cyberstalking charge, it is in your best interest to prioritize finding a defense attorney as soon as possible.

The criminal defense attorneys with Pumphrey Law Firm are dedicated to pursuing the most favorable outcomes for clients in Tallahassee and the surrounding counties, including Madison County, Taylor County, Leon County, Calhoun County, Gulf County, and Jackson County. Call us at (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

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What is Cyberstalking?

Cyberstalking is a form of stalking. The Department of Justice defines stalking as a pattern of repeated and unwanted attention, harassment, contact, or any other course of conduct directed at a specific person that would reasonably cause the targeted person to feel fear.

Before getting into the specifics of what constitutes as a cyberstalking offense in Florida, it helps to provide the following definitions:

Harassment is the course of conduct directed at a specific person that causes substantial emotional distress and serves no legitimate purpose.

Course of conduct is the pattern of conduct or series of actions over a period of time, however short, which evidences a continuity of purpose.

A credible threat is either a verbal or nonverbal threat, or a combination of the two, which includes threats delivered electronically or implied by a pattern of conduct, that places the targeted person in reasonable fear of their safety or the safety of their family and friends. Under Florida law, a person accused of making a credible threat does not require the burden of proof that they intended to carry out such threat.

Cyberthreats are defined as any threatening communication that is conveyed over the Internet, via cellphone, or other digital methods. The communicated cyberthreats can include threats to harm another person, kidnap a person, or damage someone else’s reputation.

Cyber-harassment is a term often used in relation to cyberstalking. While cyber-harassment lacks a credible threat, it typically includes threatening or harassing messages over email, instant messenger, or websites that are solely dedicated to the torment of a specific individual.

Sextortion is a form of cyber extortion. In this case, it refers to an individual demanding that a victim sends them explicit or sexual images, sexual favors, or other things of value. Typically, demands for sexual content are accompanied with threats to commit harm or harass the victim if they refuse to comply. For instance, a person online threatens to share nude photos of a specific person if they do not continue to provide them with such content. Read more about sextortion on our page here.

Revenge porn is when an individual distributes nude or sexually explicit images or videos of another person without their consent. Even if the images or videos were consented to at the time—for instance, if the two people were engaged in a romantic relationship at one point—sharing them online and without the person’s consent is usually done due to the motivation of revenge. Read more about revenge porn in our page here.

Under Florida Statute Section 784.048 , the criminal offense of cyberstalking is defined as when a person either:

  1. Engages in a course of conduct to communicate words, images, or language through electronic methods, either directly or indirectly, which is directed at or pertaining to a targeted person; or
  2. Accesses, or attempts to access, the online account or internet-connected home electronic system without the specified person’s consent and that causes substantial emotional distress to the victim.

Florida provides no definition for substantial emotional distress, which has left the meaning open to some interpretation of various state courts. However, in the 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.”

The following provides hypothetical scenarios that could result in a cyberstalking charge in Florida:

  • Excessive messaging – A person sends unwanted messages to another person over email, social media, or other electronic means that are continuous and cause the victim emotional distress.
  • Online harassment – A person causes repeated harassment of another person online by leaving negative comments online, on social media, or other digital means.
  • Online bullying – A person engages in behavior such as name-calling, exclusion, or humiliation of another person on Twitter, despite their pleas to stop.
  • Unauthorized access – A person attempts to or is successful in accessing the computer system of another person without their consent, resulting in obtaining their information and causing the targeted person emotional distress.
  • Stalking minors – A person willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly searches for or harasses individuals under the age of 16 on social media or in any digital method.
  • Violation of restraining order – A person who has a restraining order against their ex-girlfriend fails to comply and continuously follows or harasses the targeted person online.
  • Posting harmful information – A person posts or shares false or damaging information about another person on Instagram, which causes the victim severe emotional distress.
  • Revenge porn – An ex-boyfriend shares or posts explicit images or videos of their ex-girlfriend through instant messaging with others, without their consent, either to get revenge or to cause the targeted person emotional distress.
  • Credible threat online – A person makes a credible threat to another person online by threatening to harm or kill them, their family, or anyone close to them, which places the targeted person in reasonable fear for themselves and those they love.

If you have any questions about the definitions or examples relating to cyberstalking, contact an experienced stalking defense attorney in Florida.

Cyberstalking Penalties in Florida

Cyberstalking offenses are subject to the same penalties as traditional stalking crimes.

A person accused of willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly cyberstalking another person faces a first-degree misdemeanor. If the case results in a conviction, the defendant can face:

  • Up to $1,000 in fines; and/or
  • Up to one year in jail.

A person accused of willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly cyberstalking another person and in doing so, makes a credible threat to that person can be charged with aggravated cyberstalking. Additional acts that can result in an aggravated cyberstalking charge include:

  • 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; or
  • Willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly cyberstalks an alleged victim after having being sentenced for sexual batterylewd or lascivious offenses, or prohibited computer transmissions and was prohibited from contacting the alleged victim of the offense under an order of no contact.

Aggravated cyberstalking is considered a third-degree felony. If the case results in a conviction, the defendant can face:

  • Up to $5,000 in fines; and
  • Up to five (5) years in prison.

If you are unsure which type of stalking or cyberstalking offense you have been charged with, consult with a Leon County defense attorney as soon as possible.

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Federal Cyberstalking Penalties in Leon County

A person accused of cyberstalking can face prosecution under State or Federal law. In some cases, a cyberstalking crime can be charged as both. The federal provisions against both stalking and cyberstalking are codified under 18 U.S. Code § 2261A.

A federal cyberstalking violation includes using the mail, any interactive computer service or electronic communication service of interstate commerce, or any other facility of interstate or foreign commerce with the intent to kill, injure, harass, intimidate, or place under surveillance by a course of conduct that either:

  1. Places that person in the reasonable fear of serious bodily injury or death to themselves, another person, a pet, service animal, emotional support animal, or horse; or
  2. Causes, attempts to cause, or would be expected to cause substantial emotional distress to a targeted person, their immediate family member(s), spouse or intimate partner, or the pet or service animal of that person.

Say for instance that a person in Florida commits a cyberstalking offense by threatening harm to a victim online that resides out of the state. The defendant could face prosecution from the federal government. Additionally, an alleged offender who intended to cross state lines to conduct a credible threat or an alleged cyberstalking offense that involved communication transmitted through interstate or foreign commerce could be subjected to federal prosecution.

The federal penalties for cyberstalking carry up to five (5) years in federal prison and up to a $250,000 fine. If the defendant is accused of causing bodily injury to one or more victims of cyberstalking, they can face up to 10 years in federal prison. If the defendant is accused of causing permanent disability or dismemberment to the victim of cyberstalking, they can face up to 20 years in federal prison. If the defendant is accused of causing the death of a cybercrime victim, they can face up to life in federal prison.

Defenses to Cyberstalking

When certain behavior is conducted online, it is important to note that it can be difficult to remove. As the saying goes, “once you put something on the internet, it’s there forever.” However, even if you have already been formally arrested and charged with a potential cyberstalking offense, there are still some defenses that may apply to your case:

  • First Amendment Right – In some cases, the language shared online can be considered a protected form of free speech.
  • False allegations – A person may falsely accuse someone of cyberstalking for reasons such as revenge.
  • Mistaken identity – The defendant can challenge the cyberstalking charge if they were mistakenly accused of the crime.
  • Reasonable lack of fear – In stalking and cyberstalking cases, the law explains that the offense must induce some form of reasonable fear or emotional distress in the alleged victim. If the incident or course of conduct would not have caused fear or distress for a reasonable person, the defendant can use this as a defense to the charge against them.

Contact the defense attorneys with Pumphrey Law Firm to determine which defenses may apply to fight against a conviction.

Florida Cyberstalking Resource

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.”

  • FSU Computer Science Department
    Room 253
    1017 Academic Way
    Tallahassee, FL 32304
    (850) 644-2644

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Find a Lawyer for Cyberstalking Defense in Tallahassee, FL

If you believe that you could be the target of a criminal investigation, or you’ve 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 Firm represents clients accused of many crimes of domestic violence and fights to get criminal charges reduced or dismissed.

You should be aware of the lasting consequences that can come with a criminal conviction. You could be sentenced to pay expensive fines, face incarceration, or receive an injunction for protection from the victim, which would create even more regulations in your day-to-day life. Understand that these are penalties you should try to avoid at all cost.

The experienced Tallahassee criminal defense attorneys with our firm are more than prepared to protect your rights and help defend you from a conviction. You’ll 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.


Page Updated March 6, 2024

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