If you stand accused of stalking or harassment, you may feel incredibly frustrated. These terms are often used interchangeably and are sometimes difficult to separate because of their similarities. People often jokingly call former friends or romantic partners a stalker, but this accusation can carry some important weight in the eyes of the law, which is why it’s so crucial to understand the differences in these terms.
One of our stalking lawyers in Tampa with The Rickman Law Firm shares some of the key differences between stalking and general harassment and what to do if you are accused of, or charged with, either.
Stalking is often associated with mental feelings of obsession, but in the eyes of the law the definition is a little different.
Florida Statute Chapter 784 defines stalking as: “A person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person…”
For example, a person might be charged with stalking if they continually and maliciously track a former romantic partner or friend’s whereabouts, or if they are caught stalking them extensively online (cyberstalking).
You may also stand accused of aggravated stalking if there is an element of a threat of violence. The same statute referenced above defines aggravated stalking as: “A person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person and makes a credible threat to that person commits the offense of aggravated stalking…”
This is usually seen as the more extreme form of stalking, where someone might, for example, send threatening messages to their victim online or commit an act of violence against them. Further, if the person being stalked is under 16 years old, it also becomes aggravated stalking.
Harassment and stalking share many similarities, but they are ultimately not the same. The difference lies in the time spent and the intent. For example, if you bump into someone on the street and begin an argument with them, you might be harassing them, but you did not stalk them to find out their whereabouts. Therefore, this might fall more in the category of harassment. If the conflict escalates in a physical way or seriously threatening way, it may result in other charges like assault and battery, or aggravated assault.
However, if you seek someone out with malicious intent or obsessive intent, you might be facing more serious stalking charges.
The term “cyberstalking” refers to activity that’s much more than a quick Facebook search to find basic information about a potential or former partner or friend. It refers to actions that are actually punishable by law. This goes beyond simple research and occurs when someone repeatedly follows a person’s digital presence, making the victim feel threatened or unsafe in any way. Although this is still relatively new in the eyes of the law, it is still important to mention.
If you have been accused of stalking or harassment it’s important to speak with an experienced attorney as soon as possible. A Tampa stalking defense lawyer can help you navigate your rights during a stalking charge and will help you understand the best defense for your specific case.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.