Stalking is one of the more recent criminal offenses to enter into Florida law. As a result, the elements and punishments for stalking in Florida are not widely know by most Floridians. What follows is what you need to know about stalking in Florida and what you should do if you find yourself charged with the crime.
Due to several high-profile incidents in the state, California was the first American jurisdiction to codify a law against stalking. California’s statute was enacted in 1990, and in three years every other state, including Florida, had anti-stalking laws on its books.
On a federal level, the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (DPPA) was passed into law in 1994 in order to address several instances of driver’s information misused for other criminal reasons. The Violence Against Women Act of 2005 added the definition of stalking to the United States Code, characterizing it as “engaging in a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to—
(A) fear for his or her safety or the safety of others;
(B) suffer substantial emotional distress.”
Four years ago Congress added to the Federal definition of stalking “conduct that causes a person to experience a reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury to his or her pet.”
In Florida, stalking is defined as “willful, malicious, and repeated following or harassing.” Meanwhile, harassing is defined in Florida as
- engaging in a course of conduct directed at a specific person
- which causes substantial emotional distress to that person and
- serves no legitimate purpose.
In Florida, course of conduct is classified as
- a pattern of conduct composed of a series of acts over a period of time, however short, which evidences a continuity of purpose.
However, “course of conduct” specifically excludes constitutionally protected activities, including picketing or other similar organized protests.
What constitutes a credible threat is of particular importance to stalking laws in Florida. Per the statute, a credible threat is
- 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.
Under Florida law, the defendant need not have had the intent to actually carry out the threat, even if he or she could have done so. Also, a defendant being in jail or prison when making the threat does not automatically make that threat not credible.
A conviction of stalking in Florida is a first degree misdemeanor, which could lead to a sentence of up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $1,000. However, if the defendant is proven to have intended to put his or her victim in fear of their life or of bodily injury, or if the victim was under 16, or the stalking occurs in spite of a court order, the conviction is for aggravated stalking, which is a third degree felony. Aggravated stalking is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.