In Florida, stalking is defined as a pattern of conduct that causes substantial emotional distress and serves no legitimate purpose. Social media, in creating the opportunity to stay engaged and connected to numerous individuals, has given rise to the term cyberstalking, which Florida law defines as harassment through the use of electronic mail or electronic communication. Yet, the law gives little guidance about when chatroom discussions, Facebook postings and other social media engagement crosses the line from protected speech to criminal conduct. If you’ve been accused of cyberstalking, you face serious criminal penalties on the state or federal level. Joffe Law, P.A. has more than 25 years of experience defending state and federal criminal charges. We know what the prosecution must prove to make the charges stick, and we’re prepared to challenge them every step of the way.
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Understanding Florida’s cyberstalking statute
Florida’s cyberstalking law is drafted not to interfere with protected speech. In order to convict a person for cyberstalking, a Florida prosecutor must show a pattern of conduct that is:
- Willful — The offender must intend to stalk someone.
- Malicious — The offender must have base motivations.
- Repetitious — A single or even a couple of incidents are insufficient for the charge.
- Directed at a specific person — Targeting an organization or a company does not qualify.
Furthermore the conduct must:
- Cause substantial emotional distress — Mere annoyance is not sufficient.
- Serve no legitimate purpose — In other words, the conduct cannot be speech protected by the First Amendment, such as exposing a public figure to public ridicule for questionable or corrupt behavior.
As with a prosecution of an armed robbery or a sexual violent crime, the state must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. At Joffe Law, we challenge the prosecution to present firm evidence beyond a reasonable doubt on each of these points and present a robust rebuttal to cast sufficient doubt on the state’s case.
Challenging federal cyberstalking charges
There are several sections of the U.S. Code under which a federal prosecutor could bring charges of cyberstalking, but each has specific limitations which we at Joffe Law are determined make clear to the judge and jury.
- The federal stalking statute, 18 U.S.C. § 2261A — This statute requires the offender to travel across state lines to commit the offense. It does not apply to allege cyberstalking by a person who remains in the state of Florida.
- Interstate communications, 18 U.S.C. § 875 — This statute requires that the offender’s electronic communication be a threat to kidnap or injure a particular person.
- Harassment using interstate telecommunications, 47 U.S.C. § 223 — This statute only protects against harassment via phone calls and texting, not social media, chat rooms, website forums and email.
Contact a Fort Lauderdale attorney
A prosecution of a stalking offense requires proof of many factors. At Joffe Law, P.A. we’re prepared to fight on every point of the law and every fact entered as evidence. To protect your freedom and reputation, call us today at 954-723-0007.