Harassment and Stalking Laws in Florida

By Wayne Thomas
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Having an unhealthy obsession with another person can sometimes lead to irrational and dangerous behavior. These actions can include following the subject around or regularly sending him unwanted gifts or letters. While this behavior may start out harmless, it becomes the crime of stalking in Florida if it causes the victim emotional distress.

Stalking and Harassment Overview

In Florida, harassment and stalking are not separate offenses. Instead, the state recognizes stalking as a crime, with harassment being an activity that can lead to a person being arrested and convicted of stalking. Harassment involves a course of conduct directed at a person that serves no legitimate purpose but to cause emotional distress. An example might be sending threatening letters to a person every day. Stalking is not limited to harassment alone and can include repeatedly following a person around. It can also include cyberstalking, which involves using email or other electronic communications to harass a person.

Penalties

Stalking is punished as a first degree misdemeanor in Florida. Under state law, these misdemeanors can result in up to one year in jail and fines of up to $1,000. However, if the stalking involved a "credible threat," it is considered aggravated stalking. Credible threat means that in the course of stalking, the perpetrator made a threat regarding bodily injury or death with the intention of causing the victim to reasonably fear for her safety. An example might be making several phone calls to your neighbor telling him that you are inside his house and going to kill him. Aggravated stalking is punished more severely in Florida and is a felony of the third degree. This could result in jail time of up to five years and fines up to $5,000.

Other Forms of Aggravated Stalking

You can also be charged with aggravated stalking in Florida even if you did not make a credible threat if your victim is under the age of 16. You may also be charged with aggravated stalking if the victim has an injunction in place. An injunction is a court order requiring you to cease harassing, following or cyberstalking someone.

Obtaining an Injunction

If you believe you are being stalked and want to obtain an injunction against the offender, the first step is to document the harassment or other behavior, including specific dates, times and the names of any witnesses. This substantiates your case to the judge and can be used in a criminal prosecution. Then you can file a petition for an injunction with the circuit court in the county where you live. In the petition, note basic information about you and the person stalking you, and describe the specific stalking incidents. If the judge finds that you are in immediate danger, he can issue a temporary injunction against the offender based on the petition alone. This will last up to 15 days in Florida. The court will then hold a hearing and listen to both you and the person stalking you. If the judge finds that there is a sufficient basis, he can order a final injunction, which can be made to last indefinitely.

About the Author

Wayne Thomas earned his J.D. from Penn State University and has been practicing law since 2008. He has experience writing about environmental topics, music and health, as well as legal issues. Since 2011, Thomas has also served as a contributing editor for the "Vermont Environmental Monitor."

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