Harassment or Stalking

When there exists an unhealthy obsession with another person, it can lead to irrational and sometimes dangerous behavior. In many cases, harassment or stalking involves some type of health issue – either mental illness or substance abuse or addiction.

Unfortunately, these are not valid defenses on their own, which is why you need an experienced Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney. The Ansara Law Firm can help.

Florida law does not recognize “harassment” and “stalking” as two separate crimes. Rather, the state lists “stalking” as a crime, while categorizing “harassment” as an activity that could lead to an arrest and/ or conviction for stalking, as codified in F.S. 748.048. Similarly, there is no separate statute for “cyberstalk,” which is to engage in course of conduct online intended to cause emotional distress to a single person for no legitimate purpose.

There is, however, a separate law for “harassing or obscene phone calls,” as defined in F.S. 365.16, but this pertains strictly to actions that involve telecommunications.

It used to be that stalking was largely considered a crime that only afflicted celebrities or the very wealthy. However, advances in technology have meant we are more connected than ever, which means there is more opportunity to develop an obsession and access to the victim is easier.

Depending on the severity of the offense, one could be facing either misdemeanor or felony charges.

What Is Stalking?

The U.S. Justice Department defines stalking as a pattern of repeated and unwanted attention, contact, harassment or any other course of contact that is directed at a specific individual and causes the alleged victim reasonable fear.

It can include:

  • Intrusive, frightening, unwanted and repeated communication by phone, mail or email.
  • Repeatedly sending items like flowers or presents that aren’t wanted.
  • Following or waiting for someone at work, home, school or in a recreational area.
  • Making direct or indirect threats, either to the individual or to his or her children, relatives, friends or pets.
  • Harassing the person online.
  • Damaging the person’s property or threatening to do so.
  • Spreading rumors or posting false or personal information about the person online or in a public place or by word of mouth.
  • Finding personal information about the person by calling his or friends, relatives, neighbors or workplace, accessing public records, hiring private records or digging through the person’s garbage.
Misdemeanor v. Felony

The difference between misdemeanor and felony stalking is the presence of a credible threat.

F.S. 784.048(2) holds that a person who willfully, maliciously and repeatedly follows, harasses or cyberstalks another person commits the offense of stalking, which is a first-degree misdemeanor. That means the maximum penalties are:

  • Up to one year in jail;
  • Up to 12 months probation;
  • Up to $1,000 in fines.

Meanwhile, F.S. 784.08(3) holds that a person commits aggravated stalking when he or she willfully, maliciously and repeatedly follows, harasses or cyberstalks another person AND makes a credible threat to that person. This is a third-degree felony, which is punishably by:

  • Maximum 5 years in prison;
  • Maximum 5 years probation;
  • Maximum $5,000 in fines.

So what is a credible threat? It means there was a threat – verbal or non-verbal – or some combination of the two (which can include those delivered by email or implied by a pattern of conduct) that makes the person on the receiving end feel reasonably fearful for his or her own safety or that of their family or other close associates. That threat has to be made with the apparent ability to carry out the harm.

It’s not necessary for prosecutors in these cases to show the defendant intended to actually carry out that threat, only that the target was in reasonable fear of it. What’s more, the fact that the defendant was imprisoned at the time of the alleged threat will not prevent prosecutors from bringing this charge.

Special Victims

Another circumstance under which prosecutors could charge a person with aggravated stalking – even if there was no credible threat – would be if the alleged victim was under the age of 16.

In this situation, the crime will be bumped up to a third-degree felony, rather than a first-degree misdemeanor.

A second scenario in which a person could be charged with a felony for stalking, despite never making a credible threat, would be if the victim already had an injunction for protection against the defendant for:

  • Domestic violence
  • Sexual violence
  • Dating Violence
  • Repeat violence
  • Any other court-imposed prohibition of conduct toward the subject

In both cases, prosecutors will still need to show the defendant willfully, repeatedly and with malice followed, harassed or cyberstalked the victim.

Defense to Stalking Allegations

Our defense lawyers in South Florida have numerous defenses we might employ in these cases, including:

  • First Amendment Activity. If defendant was engaged in conduct that is considered constitutionally-protected activity (i.e., picketing, organized protest, etc.), then it’s not stalking.

  • Legitimate Purpose. Communication that is for a legitimate purpose, such as business, child custody or legal matters, is not considered stalking. Even if those communications are heated, it’s not necessarily stalking if the purpose was legitimate.

Contact Fort Lauderale criminal defense lawyers at The Ansara Law Firm by calling (877) 277-3780 or send us an email. We serve clients in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade Counties.