Harassment / Stalking

Stalking was once primarily considered a crime that afflicted celebrities. However, as instantaneous, digital communication has become readily available to almost anyone, reports of stalking have spiked dramatically.

The majority of stalking and harassment charges today stem from communication that takes place via phone, e-mail, text messaging and through social media. Although it takes seconds to fire off a few words, it can result in years of prison time.

Criminal defense lawyers at The Ansara Law Firm know these cases are often brimming with emotion and are often mentally draining for everyone involved. Usually, the accused and the accuser know each other:

  • A romantic relationships turned sour;
  • Feuding neighbors;
  • Bickering classmates;
  • Acquaintances sparring online over differing viewpoints;
  • Former colleagues and co-workers.

It’s a rare occasion that stalking or harassment is totally random, though it does sometimes involve a delusional or imagined connection (think celebrity stalking cases).

Florida Stalking Statistics

Allegations of stalking have grown as more than two-thirds of Americans now have access to a smartphone, which means rapid communication is at their fingertips. That means people have the ability to rapidly send messages in the heat of the moment, and those can be easily misconstrued.

In 2014, there were 136 reports of aggravated stalking, 2,010 reports of threats/ intimidation and 388 reports of simple stalking, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE). It’s been reported that stalking crimes increased 11 percent in Florida between 2008 and 2010.

More often than not, there has been a miscommunication. Sometimes, the accusations are totally false. But even when there is a modicum of truth, a defendant’s actions are usually blown out of proportion, either by the accuser or overzealous law enforcement and prosecutors.

Our experienced team of litigators is prepared to vehemently defend your rights and best interests.

What is Harassment/ Stalking?

Harassment, stalking, cyberstalking and threats/ extortion are spelled out primarily in F.S. 748.048, F.S. 836.05 and F.S. 836.10.

  • Harassment – Means engaging in a course of conduct specifically directed at certain person that results in substantial emotional distress to that individual and serves no legitimate purpose.
  • Cyberstalk – Means to communicate with a specific individual in words, images or language via electronic communication with the intended result of severe emotional distress to that person where the action serves no legitimate purpose.

Online, some examples of cyberstalking include:

  • Sending unsolicited e-mails;
  • Abusive messages;
  • Spreading vicious rumors, revealing highly personal/ sensitive information or posting intimate photographs;
  • Threatening to harm the victim or someone they care about.

While these cases usually involve some form of technology, stalking could also be a physical gesture or a pattern of behavior (i.e., showing up the victim’s workplace or home).

A person who willfully, maliciously and repeatedly follows, harasses or cyberstalks another person commits the offense of stalking, which is usually a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail.

However, aggravated stalking charges could be filed if you make a credible threat with intent to put that person in reasonable fear of his or her safety OR if the harassment or threats persist in violation of an injunction for protection. This is a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.

It’s necessary to point out too that if there is a protective order in place, no credible threat is necessary for prosecutors to file a felony charge.

  • Threats/ Extortion – Means to verbally or in writing threaten to injure someone or damage their property or reputation for the purpose of financial gain or to compel the victim to do something against his or her will.

This is a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

This is one of those crimes where intention matters. There are a lot of crimes where intention doesn’t matter. Say, for example, you recklessly drive a car and cause an accident and kill someone. The fact that you didn’t mean to cause an accident and hurt someone won’t get you out of a DUI manslaughter conviction.

Stalking is different. Motive is key, and prosecutors have to show “specific intent.” This means proving the accused did or said something with the intention that the communication would harass the alleged victim and cause them annoyance, fear or provocation of a fight. So if you unintentionally cause someone distress, this isn’t harassment.

Defenses to Harassment/ Stalking Charges

There are a number of potential defenses that could be raised to a harassment or stalking charge. Those include:

  • Free speech. Under the First Amendment, individuals have the right to express themselves freely. Of course, this freedom isn’t absolute. The question of whether the communication constitutes as free speech or harassment will likely be decided on the issue of whether there was a legitimate purpose for it.
  • Unintended consequences. Prosecutors have to show the defendant intended to harass, annoy, intimidate or bother the victim. If they cannot prove that, they don’t have a case.
  • Obvious lack of means to carry out threat. In order for prosecutors to assert the threat involved was credible, they have to show the victim reasonably believed he or she was in danger because the individual had the apparent ability to carry out the threat. It doesn’t matter if the defendant actually intended to carry out the threat, and the fact that defendant was incarcerated can’t be used as a defense either.

If you have been arrested for harassment, stalking or threats in Fort Lauderdale, call our offices today.

Contact the experienced Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers at The Ansara Law Firm by calling (954) 761-4011 or toll-free at (877)-ARREST-0 (277-3780).