Florida has taken an aggressive stance in policing the internet for criminal activity. This includes the broadly defined crime of cyberstalking, which means all forms of nonconsensual electronic communication — whether they directly or indirectly target victims.

Since 2021, Florida’s cyberstalking law has made it a first-degree misdemeanor to do either of the following:

  • use words images, or language by electronic means, directed at or pertaining to a specific person
  • access or attempt to access online accounts or internet-connected home electronic systems without the owner’s permission

To violate the law, the activity must cause “substantial emotional distress” to the person and serve no legitimate purpose.

While Florida’s law does not define what constitutes “substantial emotional distress,” courts have generally required a victim to have experienced more than just general unease or nervousness. Substantial emotional distress can be shown in many different ways. A significant part of the revised law is that it prohibits communications that are merely about a particular person, even if not sent to them. For example, cyberstalking could include negative comments about a person’s moral character posted anywhere on Facebook, not just on that person’s home page.

A misdemeanor conviction is punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a $1,000 fine. However, where “credible threats” are made by electronic means, a defendant may be charged with aggravated cyberstalking, which is a third-degree felony. The statute defines a credible threat as one that places another person in reasonable fear for their safety or the safety of their family members or close associates, where the person making the threat has the apparent ability to cause harm. Aggravated cyberstalking in punishable by five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

If you have been accused of cyberstalking based on internet communications or postings that you made, it is imperative that you talk with an experienced cyberstalking defense attorney as soon as possible. You should also preserve all evidence related to your communications or postings and to any responses you may have received. An attorney can help you evaluate whether such communications might fall under the definition of cyberstalking and can help you develop a defense.

The Law Offices of Tad A. Yates, P.C. in Orlando represents people charged with violating Florida’s cyberstalking law or committing other online crimes. If you have questions or need representation, please call us at 407-608-7777 or contact us online anytime.

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