Understanding Stalking Charges
No matter your intentions, there is a limit to how much you can try to contact another person. If things go too far, you may be charged with stalking.
In the state of Florida, depending on the circumstances, stalking is considered either a misdemeanor or third-degree felony, and consequences can range from probation and an injunction against you to jail time.
If you’re facing stalking charges in Jacksonville, Florida, it’s important you understand what you’re up against. From there, you can begin to craft a winning defense strategy that will keep you out of trouble and free to live your life.
What is Stalking?
According to Florida law, stalking is defined as willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly following, harassing, or cyberstalking another person.
In the context of stalking charges, “harass” means to do something that causes another person “substantial emotional distress” and serves “no legitimate purpose.”
To give an example, repeatedly showing up at another person’s home, when you were not invited or expected, could be considered stalking as it could make that person feel afraid. And since you were not asked to show up, this action also serves no other purpose.
No Physical Contact is Required
One thing to keep in mind when it comes to stalking charges is that an action can be considered stalking even if you’ve had no physical contact with that person. You can interact only through digital mediums such as text messages, emails, phone calls, social media, etc. and still be charged with stalking.
This is known as cyberstalking and is considered the same as any other type of stalking in the eyes of the law.
Some examples of cyberstalking include sending repeated text messages that cause the other person emotional distress. Constantly tagging someone on social media or calling them over and over again can also be considered cyberstalking depending on the context of these actions.
Repeated Contact and Malicious Intent
For an act to be considered stalking under Florida state statutes, it must meet two important criteria:
- The action must be repeated — Showing up at someone’s house once or twice, or sending them a few messages online, are isolated incidents and are usually not considered stalking.
- There must be some sort of malicious intent — For the state to levy stalking charges against you, there must be evidence that your intentions were to cause the other person harm or distress. If the person has communicated to you that your actions are doing this, and you don’t believe them and continue to act, this can still be considered stalking, even if your intentions remain innocent. In this scenario, you may not have had malicious intent, but by being told to stop and continuing anyway, you are acting maliciously and can be charged with stalking.
If your actions do not meet these criteria, stalking charges will not hold up in court and can likely be beaten. However, there are exceptions, and whether you are charged will depend on the specific circumstances surrounding your case.
Stalking is considered a misdemeanor in the state of Florida, but it can be elevated to a felony, also known as aggravated stalking, if your actions meet one of the following criteria:
- In addition to stalking, you also made a credible threat to that person — If in one of your messages, or physical encounters, you threatened the person, you can now be charged with a felony. It doesn’t matter if you had no intention of carrying out that threat. The simple act of making it means you can be charged with aggravated stalking.
- There is already an injunction in place — Stalking charges can also be elevated to a felony if the person you’ve been accused of stalking already had an injunction against you, such as a restraining order or peace order.
- The victim is under the age of 16 — If the person you are accused of stalking is under the age of 16, then any stalking charges will be filed as a felony. It doesn’t matter if there was a threat or not, the age of the victim automatically elevates the charge to aggravated stalking.
Possible Punishments for Stalking in Florida
If you are convicted of stalking of any kind, you can expect to pay a fine of up to $1,000 and a restraining order will be filed against you. This usually lasts six months, though it can be extended to 12 if the victim can prove there is still a threat.
It is also possible to face jail time for stalking. For misdemeanor stalking charges, the maximum time in jail is one year, though this can be reduced to probation if this is your first offense.
Aggravated stalking, which is a third-degree felony, carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Again, this can be reduced if it is your first offense, though it will ultimately be up to the judge to decide how much time you spend in a corrections facility.
How to Defend Yourself Against Stalking Charges in Jacksonville, FL
No matter if you’ve been charged with misdemeanor or felony stalking, the potential consequences are severe. No one wants to go to jail, and a conviction will remain on your record forever and can negatively impact your future.
How you defend yourself will depend on the specific nature of your case, but there are a few strategies that often apply to stalking charges, such as:
- Disproving malicious intent — For your actions to be considered stalking, the prosecution must be able to prove that you were acting maliciously and willfully. In other words, you knew the harm you were causing and continued to do it anyway.
- Defining the act as isolated — In order for stalking charges to hold any water, the prosecution must prove that the defendant contacted or tried to contact the alleged victim repeatedly. The exact definition of “repeatedly” will depend on the specific nature of the act and convincing the court that it was an isolated incident is often an effective way of achieving a favorable result.
- Establishing a legitimate purpose for contact — If you had a reason for contacting this person repeatedly, you may be able to avoid stalking charges. For example, if your ex-husband or ex-wife is not communicating with you about your children, and you have the right to know what’s going on, reaching out to them repeatedly is not stalking. Divorced couples, letting their emotions get the best of them, may pursue stalking charges in these scenarios, but they would be largely unwarranted and would likely not hold up in court.
- Discrediting the threat — For aggravated stalking charges where a credible threat was alleged, this threat must be legitimate. It’s true your intention doesn’t matter, but if the threat was something that would be difficult or impossible for a person to actually carry out, then it is not considered credible, and your charges can be reduced to misdemeanor stalking.
Contact Smith and Eulo and Defend Yourself Against Stalking Charges
While these defenses are the most common, it’s important to craft a strategy that is designed around the specific details of your case.
To give yourself the best chance of fighting stalking charges in Jacksonville, Fl and retaining your freedom, get in touch with the attorneys of Smith and Eulo Law Firm today. Our experienced lawyers know how to handle these cases and will help you craft a winning defense strategy that will protect both you and your future.
Here are some additional legal resources in the Jacksonville area to help you navigate your legal situation.