While the Internet, email, smartphones, and the widespread usage of social media sites have improved our lives in many ways, they have also unfortunately become the breeding grounds for new types of crime. In Florida, as well as many other jurisdictions, reports of cyberstalking have grown exponentially in recent years. You may have heard people, or even yourself, say things along the lines of, “my girlfriend broke up with me, but I still stalk her and her new guy on Facebook and Twitter.” But at what point does such online activity amount to criminal cyberstalking?
Well, pursuant to Florida Statute §784.048 (1)(d), “Cyberstalk means to engage 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 can involve communications over the Internet and electronic communication forms including, but not limited to: email, instant messages, text messaging, blog, website or online forum postings, and communication on social media sites (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.). While Florida law has not specifically defined the phrase “substantial emotional distress,” other courts have interpreted that same language to mean, “the offending conduct must be such as would 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.” Wallace v. Van Pelt¸ 969 S.W.2d 380, 386 (Mo. Ct. App. 1998).
Pursuant to Florida Statute §784.048 (2), “A person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person commits the offense of stalking, a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.” As a first degree misdemeanor, cyberstalking in Florida is punishable by up to 12 months in county jail and up to a $1000 fine.
Florida also has an aggravated cyberstalking law. According to Florida Statute §784.048 (3), “A person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person and makes a credible threat to that person commits the offense of aggravated stalking, a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.” “Credible threat,” as defined by Florida Statute §784.048 (1)(c), “means 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 person who is the target of the threat 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 . . . .” As a third degree felony, aggravated cyberstalking in Florida is punishable by up to five years in prison and up to a $5000 fine.
If you have been charged with cyberstalking or aggravated cyberstalking in Florida, contact an experienced South Florida criminal defense attorney. The Miami criminal attorneys and Fort Lauderdale criminal attorneys at the South Florida law firm of Galanter Law are extremely knowledgeable about such charges and can help formulate your defense to get your charges reduced or dismissed, where possible.
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