Cyber Stalking and Domestic Violence
In what appears to be a case of first impression in Florida, the Florida Second District Court of Appeal has recently held that cyber stalking can be an act of domestic violence for purposes of Florida statute 741.30(1)(a). Florida statute 741.30 deals with domestic violence and injunctions. Any family or household member can seek an injunction from domestic violence. Relief is not limited to spouses.
In the case of Branson vs. Rodriguez-Linares, the issue of the definition of domestic violence when it pertains to Internet stalking was addressed. Given chapter 741 does not provide a definition for the criminal offenses listed therein, the court looked to the statute that prescribed cyber stalking to determine the essential elements of that crime. Florida statute 784.048(1)(d) defines cyber stalking as: “engaging in a course of conduct to communicate, or to cause to be communicated, words, images, or language by or through the use of electronic mail or electronic communication, directed at a specific person, causing substantial emotional distress to that person and serving no legitimate purpose.” Obviously, this statute has a lot of loopholes in it, but it is now being used to crumbly prosecute persons who would seek to use the Internet or other electronic means to harass their targets.
It is not necessary to prove that the person making the threat had the intent to actually carry out the threat. This is a useful provision as many times cyber bullies claim that they were just joking or try to establish that they didn’t have the ability to carry out the threat. That problem no longer exists. Additionally, if the target is under 16 years of age, the perpetrator can be charged with a third-degree felony. Law enforcement officers are allowed to arrest, without a warrant, any person that they have probable cause to believe has violated this law.
Since chapter 784 defines stalking to include cyber stalking, the opinion indicates that for purposes of chapter 741 injunctions, cyber stalking violence can be enjoined. Especially when the cyber stalking involves threats of violence to a family member or household member. Although this opinion deals with cyber stalking, I’m sure it would apply to texting or voicemail messages in which violence is threatened. I’m certain we will eventually see an opinion dealing with that type of bullying behavior.
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