Protective orders against cyberstalking

Today we continue our discussion about Florida laws that protect against online harassment and threats. In Part 1, we talked about what cyberstalking is under Florida law, including as a type of domestic violence.

In 2012, the legislature added a new statute creating the right to ask a state court for an "injunction for protection against stalking," including cyberstalking. An injunction is a court order directing someone to do or not do something. An injunction against cyberstalking may order the stalker to stop and refrain from this behavior. The court may also order treatment, counseling, intervention and other relief that would protect the victim, including referrals to law enforcement. The subject of this order may not have a firearm.

Violating this injunction against stalking or cyberstalking may result in a civil or criminal charge of contempt of court or it may be prosecuted as a separate crime.

Hearing on the request for an injunction

The court can enter a 15-day injunction immediately without the respondent (defendant) being present, followed by a hearing on the injunction request after notice to the respondent, at which the court may issue a permanent injunction.

At this hearing, the victim must submit evidence to the court of the emails, texts and other electronic communications, as well as proof that the defendant sent them, so that the court has sufficient evidence to support an injunction against cyberstalking. In addition, to determine whether the cyberstalking caused "substantial emotional distress" as the statute requires, the judge must look not at the actual, subjective distress of the victim, but rather at whether a "reasonable person" would suffer substantial emotional distress in reaction to the alleged cyberstalking.

In addition, Florida courts enforce the requirement that there be "repeated" harassing behavior. Courts have required at least two instances.

Another issue that may come up is whether the accused directed the online behavior "at a specific person." A Florida court has held that a husband's posting to his Facebook page the lyrics to a song and the dialog of a private conversion the wife had had with someone else via her own Facebook account did not amount to directing communication at her. The husband had not tagged her or mentioned her in the posts.

If you have questions about any aspect of cyberstalking under Florida law, talk to an experienced family lawyer.

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