Florida law does not take aggravated stalking lightly. As the term implies, aggravated stalking is a more serious crime than ordinary stalking, and thus has stricter penalties attached to it. What follows is a discussion of Florida’s aggravated stalking laws and what you need to know if you find yourself facing a charge of aggravated stalking in a Florida court.
To understand aggravated stalking in Florida, one must first understand ordinary stalking. Florida law defines stalking as the persistent following, harassing, or cyberstalking another and that person feeling threatened or harassed as a result.
Harassment in Florida is behavior intended by the one carrying it out to cause emotional distress in another person. It also is activity that would make a reasonable person feel fearful of their safety.
For a stalking charge to prevail, the state must show a pattern of events and the existence of a credible threat. A credible threat in Florida is one that would cause a reasonable person to fear for their personal safety or the safety of their family members. To prove a pattern of events, the state must show that the defendant has carried out actions over a certain period of time that would show a course of conduct aimed at a specific individual.
Florida law identifies three main elements that compose aggravated stalking.
Willful, malicious, and repeated behavior – the state must show that the defendant consciously and repetitively carried out actions that resulted in significant emotional distress to the victim.
Harassment or cyberstalking – this is defined as following the victim, making unwanted contact with the victim, or using electronic communication to cause the victim to experience emotional distress.
Credible threat – the state must show that the defendant made threats and that those threats were credible. The defendant must have had the intent and evident ability to carry out those threats, which can be verbal, non-verbal, or sent using an electronic device. The threats must also have made the victim to fear for their own safety or for the safety of their family. The threats must also have made the victim feel reasonable fear of death or significant physical harm.
Several possible defenses to aggravated stalking are utilized by defense attorneys in Florida.
Not enough evidence – the defense may argue that there is simply not enough evidence to legally sustain a charge of aggravated stalking.
Mistaken identity – sometimes colloquially known as the SODDI defense (“some other dude did it”), this defense is that the state is charging the wrong person for the crime of aggravated stalking.
Lack of credible threat – the defendant may argue that the threat that they are accused of was not serious enough to cause a reasonable fear of death or bodily harm.
Consent – a defendant may defeat a charge of aggravated stalking by arguing that the victim consented to the contact or even invited it.
First Amendment – the First Amendment of the US Constitution protects certain kinds of speech from prosecution. A defendant may counter a charge of aggravated stalking with a claim that the activity they are being charged with is protected speech.