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When Does “Creepy” Conduct Rise to the Level of “Stalking” Under Florida law?

Stalker

Stalking is a first-degree misdemeanor offense under Florida law. The legal definition of stalking is to “willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly” follow, harass, or cyberstalk another person. If the stalking involves making a “credible threat” against the target, the criminal charge becomes a third-degree felony. Individual victims of stalking may also seek an injunction against the stalker.

Keep in mind, however, that stalking requires proof of more than just “creepy” or unsettling conduct. The fact that a petitioner might feel unsettled by the presence of a person does not make that person a stalker as a matter of law. And if you believe you have been falsely accused of stalking, it is important to stand up for your rights in court.

A recent decision from the Florida Third District Court of Appeals, Santiago v. Leon, offers a case in point. In this case, the father of a minor filed a petition for a stalking injunction against the respondent. The father had a prior long-distance relationship with the respondent. The father never lived with the respondent, and his son was born via a surrogate.

In July 2017, after the long-distance relationship ended, the father filed his petition, alleging the respondent was stalking M.L. In support of his petition, the father alleged as follows:

  • the respondent got a tattoo of M.L.’s name;
  • the respondent posted images of M.L. to his Facebook and Instagram accounts and represented the child as his son;
  • the respondent mailed packages to M.L.;
  • the respondent sent two emails to the father expressing his “love for M.L.”;
  • the respondent attempted to contact the surrogate regarding M.L.;
  • the respondent drove by a restaurant while the father and M.L. were dining there and “made eye contact” with them; and
  • the respondent “frequented the same restaurants at the same time as the father, oftentimes when M.L. was also present.”

After holding a hearing, a Miami-Dade County judge issued a stalking injunction, prohibiting the respondent from having any contact with M.L. and his father, or from posting anything related to the child on social media.

The Third District reversed the injunction, holding there was a lack of evidence to support it. As the appeals court explained, the trial judge never “made any express findings” as to how the respondent’s actions fell within the statutory definition of stalking. In particular, the conduct described above did not add up to “following,” “harassment,” or “cyberstalking.” The respondent’s actions with respect to a child who was legally not his own may have been “creepy,” the Third District conceded, but it did not meet the test for stalking.

Contact a Miami Criminal Defense Attorney Today

If someone files for a stalking or domestic violence injunction against you, you need to take the matter seriously. An experienced Miami misdemeanor & felony lawyer can assist you in preparing and presenting your case to a judge, and if necessary an appellate court. Contact the Law Office of Julia Kefalinos today at 305.676.9545 if you need to speak with a lawyer right away.

Sources:

flsenate.gov/Laws/Statutes/2018/Chapter784

scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=7485523347657066272

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