Stalking & Florida Domestic Violence
Florida’s domestic violence law specifies certain crimes that automatically qualify as domestic violence if perpetrated by one “family or household member” against another. Stalking and aggravated stalking are on that list, which means in the long run that if someone is convicted of stalking a family or household member, the offense will be treated as a crime of domestic violence. However, sometimes exactly what constitutes stalking is not clear, which can land someone in serious trouble.
“Willfully, Maliciously, and Repeatedly”
Florida law states that a person who “willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly” follows or harasses (or cyberstalks) a person is guilty of stalking, which is a first-degree misdemeanor. Someone who engages in this behavior as well as making a credible threat against the victim is guilty of aggravated stalking, which is a third-degree felony. This seems fairly straightforward, but in reality, there is a lot to unpack, so to speak – a court has the right to determine what exactly constitutes “willful” or “malicious” behavior.
In the context of domestic violence, however, alleged stalking acquires an even more serious character, particularly if it happens in violation of a domestic violence injunction or anti-stalking injunction granted by the court. Florida courts have the right to issue what are known as “ex parte” injunctions to alleged victims of domestic violence if there is a credible, immediate threat to their safety. A credible allegation of stalking, or particularly aggravated stalking, will generally result in the issuance of an injunction, requiring you to stay away from the person – and in some cases, away from the home you share together.
All Factors Must Be Present
In order to make a charge of stalking stick, three factors must be shown to the court’s satisfaction. They are (1) that the behavior is directed at a specific person; (2) that the behavior caused that person significant emotional distress (not necessarily fear, but fear occurs most often); and (3) the behavior must have no legitimate purpose. As before, there are specific words that must be defined here – for example, what exactly constitutes a ‘legitimate’ purpose can be debatable.
What this means for you, on the other hand, is that casting doubt on any one of these factors will torpedo the prosecution’s case. If your behavior is not “malicious” or repeated, or if there is a legitimate purpose to your trying to contact his person, for example, all of the factors to establish a case of stalking simply are not present. That said, it is generally recommended to have experienced legal help on your side, to help set your mind at ease. Particularly in cases of domestic violence, the stakes are simply too high.
Contact A West Palm Beach Domestic Violence Attorney
Data from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement reports a 116 percent rise in stalking crimes in 2021 over 2020; given the nature of the statute, it is reasonable to assume that at least some of these charges were due to misunderstandings or accidents. If you have been charged with stalking as domestic violence, it is important to enlist a West Palm Beach criminal attorney. The firm of Perlet, Shiner, Melchiorre & Walsh, P.A. has experience in these cases, and is ready to work for you. Call our offices today to speak to an attorney.