Cyberstalking Defense Lawyer in Tampa
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Unwanted communications through electronic systems can cross the line into cyberstalking when the messages distress or threaten the person targeted by the message sender. Both the State of Florida and the federal government criminalize harassment through the Internet, telephones and sometimes the mail. Not all speech qualifies for First Amendment protection, but determining the point at which obsessive or cruel communications become a crime can be challenging. A Tampa cyberstalking defense lawyer like Joffe Law, P.A. could counteract extreme accusations and shield someone from a harsh federal or state sentence.
How do the courts define cyberstalking?
Cyberstalking is an extremely broad and can take many forms. A look at the federal crime of stalking in real life provides a good starting point. According to 18 U.S. Code § 2261A, stalking involves crossing state lines with the intent to intimidate, harass, surveil, injure or even kill someone. It also includes doing so to threaten someone close to that person, like a spouse, other family member or pet.
With cyberstalking, the suspect does not physically travel, but instead sends messages by electronic means. Electronic transmission of messages can occur through:
- text messages
- telephone calls
- social media comments or messages
- Internet videos
Some Tampa news examples illustrate how cyberstalking can occur. In February 2021, a U.S. District judge sentenced a Florida man to 3 years and 8 months in federal prison on charges of stalking and conspiracy to commit stalking. He had conspired with another man to harass a person by sending threatening messages through the mail and Internet. The men published videos of the victim on YouTube and included personal information about the person for all to see. They also ordered unwanted food and other services for delivery to the victim’s address. In addition to the Internet, they mailed threatening packages that included a dead kitten. These actions caused the victim considerable distress and inflicted the fear of bodily harm.
The allegations of a Tampa woman show a very different approach to cyberstalking. When speaking to News Channel 8, she alleged that a man in California had succeeded in hacking her phone after she replied to one of his tweets. She claimed after she rejected his advances, he then he took over her Twitter account and altered passwords on numerous online accounts and devices. She said that his control of her phone sends her calls to the alleged cyberstalker, and she claims to have recordings of him calling her rude names. Such evidence presented in court could lead to a steep prison sentence without the expertise of an experienced cyberstalking defense attorney in Tampa.
Do not say anything that might incriminate you. Speak with a cyberstalking attorney first.
The elements of cyberstalking
Laws meant to combat cyberstalking outline the characteristics of communications that make them criminal. A conviction on a cyberstalking charge relies on evidence that proves that a defendant:
- willfully intended to stalk the targeted person
- repeatedly sent unwanted messages
- targeted a person and not a company or organization
Even if these traits are present, the communications must cause strong emotional distress. The communications must lack a legitimate purpose, such as criticism of a public figure or elected official.
Federal and Florida cyberstalking laws
As mentioned above, 18 U.S.C. § 2261A defines stalking in real life within the federal criminal code. An accused cyberstalker residing in Florida who allegedly harassed another person in the state would not face prosecution under this section because it requires interstate travel.
However, 18 U.S.C. § 875 establishes that interstate communications that contain threats to physically hurt or kidnap is an act of criminal cyberstalking. The requirement that the messages show an intent to injure or kidnap narrow the scope of this law. A possible defense strategy might emerge if the messages are not clear and open to interpretation.
The federal law that enables prosecution of more cyberstalking offenses is 47 U.S.C. § 223. This one addresses messages made by telephone and texting that harass, abuse, or threaten. Interestingly, the law does not extend to social media, email or chat rooms.
At the state level, Florida law specifically mentions that cyberstalking includes communications through email and electronic communication in general. Accessing the online accounts, Internet connections or devices or attempting to access them also represents a form of cyberstalking.
A person under investigation for cyberstalking in Tampa may face prosecution at the state level if the messages occurred by email or on social media. Federal prosecution could result if the person was found to have sent electronic messages while traveling out of state or if the harassment allegedly included using threats to injure or kidnap. Your Tampa cyberstalking lawyer will discuss which applies to your unique case.
Defense strategies for cyberstalking
Challenges to the validity or sufficiency of evidence form the foundation of criminal defense. Cyberstalking laws outline precise actions and their effects to define individual criminal offenses. Prosecution and conviction require that evidence satisfies the definitions of a crime.
The intent of a person may prove to be a vulnerability in a prosecutor’s case. Your Tampa federal defense lawyer might question whether the messages presented a realistic threat to the targeted person’s well-being.
A cyberstalking case may also involve technical details about how the alleged stalker was identified. The digital forensic evidence may be open to challenge if it cannot clearly create a connection between the electronic communications and the accused person.
Convictions for cyberstalking, especially at the federal level, could lead to significant prison sentences. If no one was hurt, a penalty could include a prison sentence up to five years. Cyberstalking defendants convicted of following through on their threats and causing bodily injury could face up to 10 years in prison and additional charges.
Learn how to respond to cyberstalking accusations
When first confronted by law enforcement, a person might hope to make things right by answering questions. An individual might try to explain that the messages were sent in a moment of anger or that they were not meant to be taken seriously. Cooperating openly with authorities; however, can place that person in jeopardy. Investigators tend to assume people are guilty and are not inclined to give people the benefit of the doubt.
This is the point at which a federal criminal defense lawyer may intervene and counsel a person to answer questions carefully or not at all. If a law enforcement agency has sufficient evidence to obtain a search warrant or make an arrest, then it probably will. Even at that point, the representation of a lawyer can make a difference. Legal advice helps a person know the consequences of pleading guilty or not guilty. Joffe Law, P.A. has defended people in over 1,100 federal cases. A cyberstalking defense lawyer in Tampa is available to meet with you. Contact our office today.