If you find yourself facing a court date after another person files a complaint against you, you may be wondering "is stalking a felony charge?" Stalking is a criminal offense in all 50 states, and in South Florida, the consequences can be quite severe. Furthermore, if a judge grants an injunction or restraining order against you it will appear on your permanent record even if you never violate the terms. When asking can stalking be a felony charge, it is essential to examine the facts surrounding the unique case. The short answer is that yes, it can be, but it is not always. Keep reading to learn more.
Criminal defense lawyer Matt Shafran, partner at Weinstein Legal, serves as a defense attorney for stalking charges in South Florida. If you are facing charges it is imperative that you contact a lawyer right away to start building a case on your behalf. A conviction for stalking charges can have negative impacts on your life that are far-reaching, but there is legal help available to you. Contact Weinstein Legal for a free case evaluation today and ask for attorney Matt Shafran.
What Is Stalking?
Many individuals have heard the term "stalking" thrown around loosely in conversation, but in reality, there is a firm legal outline that defines the offense. According to Florida Statute 784.048, the state of Florida defines stalking as "a person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person."
The law goes into further detail, clearly defining what it means to harass and cyberstalk an individual as well. The act of harassment, legally, is "to engage in a course of conduct directed at a specific person which causes substantial emotional distress," without serving any legitimate purpose. Cyberstalking refers to online and electronic communication and presence. Hacking another person's online or electronic accounts, sending them repeated electronic communications of any kind that follow the definition of harassment, or accessing their GPS location without permission all fall under the definition of cyberstalking.
Unlike laws regarding restraining orders and injunctions in the state of Florida, you do not need to have a specific relationship with another individual to receive stalking charges. Restraining orders and injunctions clearly state, for example, the stipulations for filing an order of protection against domestic abuse and the requirements a person must meet to qualify. Stalking does not come with this familial and relationship criteria–just the requirement that another person be repeatedly harassed and/or followed against their will with malicious intent. You may file stalking charges against a complete stranger if there is enough proof to substantiate the claim.
Felony vs. Misdemeanor Stalking in the state of Florida
Asking, "is stalking a felony?" is common among people who find themselves facing charges. The answer is that yes, stalking can be a felony charge under certain circumstances. When looking at the facts of your case, an experienced stalking defense attorney will know precisely what to examine to ensure you are not being charged with an offense that is greater than the one that fits the facts.
There are two different types of stalking charges in the state of Florida, and when asking "can stalking be a felony?" The first type of stalking charge is simple stalking, which occurs without threats, when no minors are present, and there is no prior restraining order or injunction in place. Simple stalking is a first-degree misdemeanor charge in the state of Florida.
Upon conviction, you may face up to one year in jail, up to $1,000 in fines as well as court fees, probation, and various other penalties. A judge may order you to undergo counseling or therapy and they may grant the opposing party, or the person filing charges against you, a restraining order that limits your contact with that person as well as their loved ones.
The second type of stalking charge in the state of Florida is aggravated stalking, which is a third-degree felony. Aggravated stalking charges involve minors, stalking that violates a restraining order or injunction that is already in place at the time of the offense, or stalking that involves the use of credible threats.
Understanding the legal definition of the term "credible threat" is crucial. A credible threat is one that the opposing party can reasonably believe the offender is capable of carrying out. It may be a threat of violence, blackmail, a threat of damaging their reputation, a threat against their family, and more. Whether or not you have true intention of carrying out such a threat is not relevant to the charge. All that matters is that the opposing party believes you can carry out the threat.
For those wondering is stalking a felony, these are the essential elements of the case you must look at. Is a minor involved in the case? Has an existing restraining order or injunction been violated in the process of the offense? Have credible threats against the opposing party been made? If the answer to any of these questions is "yes" then your stalking charge can be a felony under Florida law.
In the state of Florida, a third-degree felony charge such as aggravated stalking is punishable by up to five years in prison, fines up to $5,000 plus court fees, probation, and more. More importantly, a felony record will follow you around for the rest of your life, making it challenging to find employment and housing. For this reason, hiring an experienced stalking defense attorney is vital to your case.
How to Defend Against Stalking Charges
As with any criminal offense in the United States, if you are facing stalking charges and are wondering "is stalking a felony?" you are innocent until proven guilty, though the courts may grant your accuser a temporary order of protection until an official hearing can take place. The courts need substantial proof that you are guilty, and often stalking charges come down to he-said-she-said cases. The opposing party must be able to show the courts that their accusations are true beyond a reasonable doubt.
For example, a person may claim you are following them every morning, but can they show that you are not just following your daily drive to work? Do you live in close proximity to the person and frequent the same places such as the grocery store or gym, just by coincidence? If the prosecutor cannot prove that you are following the accusing party intentionally and with malice, the case may not stand up.
Additionally, if you are facing charges for aggravated stalking with credible threats, does the prosecutor's office have evidence of these threats? Evidence may include recorded voicemails, text messages, e-mails, or eye witness testimony. All of these things are important in a stalking case.
Get Your Free Case Evaluation
If you are facing stalking charges, do not wait to seek legal help. You need a dedicated defense team working tirelessly on your side to protect your rights and help retain your freedom. With so much to lose, it is crucial to begin working on your case as soon as possible.
Local South Florida Criminal defense attorney Matt Shafran at Weinstein Legal is ready to fight for you. For a free case evaluation, contact Weinstein Legal today at 954-845-0505 and begin building your defense.