How to Fight Stalking Charges in Florida
Though harassment, following, or intimidating another person may seem harmless because there is no physical contact, stalking is still a serious crime. Certain types of conduct can even be charged as a felony, punishable by prison, fines, probation, and other penalties. A Florida criminal defense attorney can tell you more about stalking offenses and protective orders, but some answers to common questions may be useful.
What acts constitute stalking? Florida law allows a person to obtain a protective order against someone alleged to be stalking, which is defined as intentional, continued, and malicious harassment. The key is a course of conduct, so there must be a series of acts revealing a pattern over a period of time. In addition, the victim must suffer substantial emotional distress, so mere annoyance does not constitute stalking. Harassment by electronic means, or “cyberstalking,” is included in the description of the offense.
How is a protective order different from a stalking conviction? You are not under arrest when a judge issues a protective order, since an individual can obtain a protective order without even giving you notice or a chance to appear in court. The order simply prohibits you from continuing to engage in designated stalking conduct. There are no charges pending against you unless prosecutors convince the court of your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Because you do not have an opportunity to defend yourself before the court issues a protective order, it will be temporary in duration.
Is there a difference between felony and misdemeanor stalking? In many cases, stalking is charged as a misdemeanor in Florida. However, the crime is elevated to a felony under certain circumstances, such as:
- Stalking involving a credible threat;
- When the individual has been the subject of a stalking protective order in the past;
- Stalking in the context of a domestic relationship;
- When the subject of stalking is a child under 16 years old; and,
- Other situations as designated by law.
Stalking is a third degree felony, which is the least serious type of felony. Still, the penalties for a conviction are considerable. You face up to five years in prison and a maximum fine of $5,000. Plus, you will have a felony conviction on your permanent criminal record. If the circumstances indicate a sex crime, you could even be forced to register as a sexual offender or predator.
Do I have a defense against stalking allegations? You can defend yourself against stalking charges by presenting evidence that the allegations are fabricated or exaggerated. Plus, the level of proof necessary to obtain a protective order is much lower than the burden of proving you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Should I hire a Florida criminal defense attorney to represent me?
You stand a better chance of beating stalking charges if you retain an experienced lawyer right away, regardless of whether a protective order has been issued against you. For more information on defense options, please contact the Fort Lauderdale, FL offices of attorney Kevin J. Kulik. We can schedule a consultation to review your case and get started on a legal strategy.