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 chat room discussions, Facebook postings and other social media engagement crosses the line from protected speech to criminal conduct. If you’ve been accused of this type of crime, you face serious criminal penalties on the state or federal level. You need a Naples or Fort Lauderdale cyberstalking defense attorney by your side throughout the legal process.
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 the prosecution of a sex crime, the state or government (in a federal case) must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. At Joffe Law, our federal criminal defense team will 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 criminal chat room charges in Broward County
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 in Broward County.
- 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 cyberstalking defense lawyer
A prosecution of a cyberstalking offense requires proof of many factors. At Joffe Law, P.A. our chat room crime defense attorneys will argue on every point of the law and challenge facts entered as evidence. To help protect your freedom and reputation, call us today at 954-723-0007.