Is Cyberstalking a Crime in Florida?
Stalking allegations are common in Florida domestic violence cases. Stalking refers to any pattern of harassment or unwanted attention designed to provoke fear in the victim. These days, stalking not only includes actions that take place in the physical world but also via the Internet.
In fact, Florida’s criminal stalking laws expressly define a separate subcategory of “cyberstalking” activities. Under Section 784.048(1)(d) of the Florida Statutes, a person is guilty of cyberstalking if he or she:
- engages in a “course of conduct” to communicate “words, images, or languages”;
- through the use of e-mail or any other “electronic communication,” such as a social media network;
- directed at a “specific person”;
- that causes “substantial emotional distress” to that person; and
- serves “no legitimate purpose.”
Cyberstalking is prosecuted the same as any other form of stalking in Florida. The base stalking offense is a first-degree misdemeanor, but if the cyberstalking involves making a “credible threat” against the victim, the charge can be bumped to a third-degree felony. Similarly, it is also a third-degree felony to cyberstalk a child under the age of 16 or if the defendant was previously the subject of a domestic violence or related protection order.
A third-degree felony is not a minor charge. If you are tried and convicted of felony cyberstalking, you can be sentenced to five years in prison and fined $5,000. The judge can also order you to have no contact with your accuser for a period of up to 10 years.
Cyberstalking and Domestic Violence Restraining Orders
While cyberstalking is a serious problem, it is important to understand that not every unsolicited online communication is illegal. In other words, following your ex-girlfriend on Twitter is not a crime. But if you repeatedly send her direct messages via Twitter demanding that you get back together–and implying she might be hurt if she refuses–then she has a credible case for cyberstalking.
Oftentimes, cyberstalking can be stopped by notifying the social network or even the alleged stalker’s Internet service provider. Most online companies have anti-harassment policies, but they are only enforced when the victims complain. Social networks like Twitter and Facebook also have blocking features that allow you to prevent unauthorized persons from communicating with you directly.
In more serious cases, victims of cyberstalking can seek a domestic violence restraining order. If granted, such an order prohibits the defendant from having any contact–physical or online–for an indefinite period of time. And while a Florida judge may grant a temporary, ex parte restraining order that lasts up to 15 days, a final order requires a hearing where both parties are entitled to be heard.
Whether you are the accuser or accused in a cyberstalking case, it is important to work with an experienced Miami domestic violence attorney who will make sure the courts follow the law and respect your rights. Contact the Law Offices of Julia Kefalinos today at 305-676-9545 if you need help pursuing or defending against any kind of cyberstalking or domestic violence matter.