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Do you need a harassment and stalking defense lawyer in Vero Beach, FL?

Florida does not recognize harassment and stalking as two separate crimes. Instead, Florida law categorizes stalking as a crime and harassment as an activity that could lead to an arrest and subsequent conviction for stalking. Harassment means to “engage in a course of conduct directed at a specific person which causes substantial emotional distress to that person and serves no legitimate purpose.” Harassment can be in the form of phone calls, emails, social media posts, or of a sexual nature.

There is no separate law in Florida that prohibits cyberstalking, which means to engage in a course of conduct online that is intended to cause emotional distress to a specific person for no legitimate purpose. However, the state does have a separate statute for harassing or obscene phone calls, although the law pertains only to telecommunications actions.

What is Stalking?

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, stalking is a pattern of repeated and unwanted attention, contact, harassment, or any other course of contact directed at a specific individual that causes them to feel reasonable fear. Stalking behavior might include:

  • Unwanted and repeated phone calls
  • Repeatedly sending unwanted flowers and presents
  • Following or waiting for someone at work, home, school, or some other area
  • Making direct or indirect threats to an individual or their friends, relatives, or pets
  • Online harassment
  • Property damage (or the threat of property damage)
  • Spreading false information about someone online, in a public place, or by word of mouth
  • Calling someone’s friends, relatives, neighbors, or workplace to acquire personal information about them
  • Accessing a person’s public records, hiring a private investigator, or digging through their garbage

Stalking is a crime in every state and is most often charged against estranged spouses and partners, although the stalking of someone by a stranger is not uncommon.

Florida Stalking Laws

Florida’s stalking law is a first-degree misdemeanor defined as “repeated harassment that creates a credible threat of harm.” If you currently face misdemeanor or felony charges for stalking, you could be looking at up to a year in jail or on probation and up to $1,000 in fines.

In Florida, aggravated stalking, a third-degree felony, is defined as “willful, malicious, and repeated following or harassing another with credible threats with the intent to place the person in reasonable fear of death or bodily injury; or willfully, maliciously, repeatedly follows or harasses a minor under 16; or after an injunction for protection or any court-imposed prohibition of conduct, knowingly, willfully, maliciously and repeatedly follows or harasses another person.” Those charged with aggravated stalking face maximum penalties of up to five years in prison, five years of probation, and $5,000 in fines.

Victims of stalking in Florida have the option of requesting an order of protection issued by the court that requires a stalker to refrain from contacting or pursuing the requesting person. A felony charge can be elevated to felony stalking if the victim already had a protection order against the defendant, even in the absence of a credible threat. If the alleged victim was under 16, the crime could be bumped up to a third-degree felony rather than a first-degree misdemeanor.

Defenses to Stalking Allegations

Just being charged with stalking does not mean an automatic conviction. Some potential defenses to a Florida stalking charge include:

  • First Amendment activity. If you were engaged in a constitutionally-protected activity like organized protesting or picketing, this behavior is not considered stalking.
  • Legitimate purpose. Communication for a legitimate purpose – business, child custody, or other legal matters – is not stalking, even if the exchange becomes somewhat heated, as long as the intention is legitimate.

Regardless of whether you are facing misdemeanor or felony stalking charges in Florida, the penalties can be severe, requiring the assistance of a Florida criminal defense attorney who has experience defending against stalking charges in the state.

Contact a Competent Vero Beach Harassment and Stalking Defense Law Firm

Stalking is a serious crime in Florida. If you are looking for aggressive legal representation to help you defend yourself against a stalking charge, Attorney Susan Chesnutt has the knowledge and determination you are looking for. For competent legal representation against Florida stalking charges, contact our firm online or call 772-242-0524 today.