Stalking doesn't always involve following someone down the street or lurking outside her home. Stalking is a serious criminal charge in Florida and can take many forms, depending on the situation. Stalking and harassment are not separate offenses, but harassment is an activity that can be used to prove the crime of stalking. If another person's behavior is causing you emotional distress, Florida harassment and stalking laws are there to protect you.
Meaning of Harassment
Florida defines harassment as a "means to engage in a course of conduct directed at a specific person which causes substantial emotional distress to that person and serves no legitimate purpose." Behavior that may considered harassment includes making phone calls, writing letters and sending text messages, emails and other types of digital communication.
Florida Harassment Laws
The Florida stalking statute is the Florida Statutes Title XLVI Chapter 784 Section 048. Under this law, anyone who willfully, maliciously and repeatedly follows, harasses or cyberstalks another person commits the offense of stalking. In Florida, stalking is a misdemeanor of the first degree, meaning it is punishable by imprisonment of up to one year and a fine of up to $1,000.
If the court deems the stalking to involve a "credible threat," it is considered aggravated stalking. A credible threat means that, in the course of stalking, the stalker made a threat relating to bodily injury or death with the intention of causing the victim to reasonably fear for her safety. For example, aggravated stalking may involve phoning your neighbor and telling him you are inside his house and are going to kill him. Aggravated stalking is a felony of the third degree, making it punishable by imprisonment of up to five years and a fine of up to $5,000.
Florida law also classes cyberstalking as a misdemeanor of the second degree, meaning it is punishable by imprisonment of up to 60 days and a fine of up to $500.
Harassment Restraining Order in Florida
If someone is found guilty of stalking, part of the punishment may be a restraining order, which forbids the offender from any contact – direct or indirect – with the victim. The court sets the duration of the restraining order, which may be up to 10 years depending on the severity of the circumstances and the likelihood of future violations.
If you believe you are being stalked and want the protection of a restraining order, you can file a petition with the circuit court for a civil restraining order. The most important thing to do is record all instances of harassment and stalking, including dates, times and details of any witnesses. The judge may issue a temporary restraining order for up to 15 days based on the petition alone if she finds you are in immediate danger. Otherwise, a hearing will be arranged to hear from both you and the person stalking you in order to determine whether a restraining order should be issued.