Over the years I've defended more than my share of neighbor vs. neighbor injunction cases in Tampa and Hillsborough County, FL. I always represent the respondent in these cases. I'm morally opposed to representing a petitioner in any injunction case but particularly in a neighbor vs. neighbor case.
I've seen cases involving allegations of poisoning the family cat, fighting over hanging tree limbs, and making obscene gestures while looking out the kitchen window. The craziest cases always involve hours of blurry surveillance videos. The individuals involved in these fights end up filing for an injunction because no law enforcement officer or prosecutor would believe their claims.
Most normal people have no idea that such a place exists. Who knew you could ask for an injunction for protection? Well, the crazy people know about it. The crazy people use that process when it suits them. The craziest people use the system to stalk and harass their victims.
Of course, hidden in the chaos are the few cases where a real victim actually needs help from the court. It's up to the judge to sort through it all.
Florida's New Staking and Cyberstalking Laws
The Florida legislature just added a new level of chaos to the process by introducing yet another category for protection injunctions - the stalking protection injunction. On October 1, 2012, House Bill 1099 for Stalking and Aggravated Stalking took effect. The bill makes a wide variety of changes to s. 784.048, F.S., the stalking statute, and s. 784.0485 for stalking protection injunctions.
If you thought the stalking definition was vague before, just wait until you read all the new provisions:
- It broadens the stalking-related definitions, primarily the definition of “credible threat.”
- It broadens the definition of "aggravated stalking."
- It creates a statutory cause of action for an injunction for protection against stalking and cyberstalking.
- It creates a new mechanism for collecting economic damages for an injury or loss that results from a violation of the stalking injunction.
- It creates a new first degree misdemeanor crime for violating an injunction against stalking or cyberstalking.
- It creates a new first degree misdemeanor crime for the respondent to have in his possession a firearm or ammunition after the issuance of an injunction for protection against stalking while that injunction is in effect.
- It requires the court, for any sentence, to consider issuing an injunction restraining a defendant from victim contact for up to ten years.
Injunction for Protection Against Stalking and Cyberstalking under §784.0485
Prior to the new law, a statutory cause of action did not exist specifically for protection against stalking or aggravated stalking. So if a person wanted an injunction based on stalking behavior then the person had to pursue injunctive relief through the domestic violence, dating violence or the repeat violence injunction statutes.
- Domestic violence injunctions required stalking or aggravated stalking resulting in physical injury or death of one family or household member by another member.
- Dating violence injunctions required stalking or aggravated stalking resulting in physical injury or death between individuals who have or have had a continuing and significant relationship of a romantic or intimate nature.
- Repeat violence injunctions require two incidents of stalking or aggravated stalking, one being within six months of the petition’s filing, which are directed against the petitioner or an immediate family member.
Unlike other types of allegations in injunction for protection cases, allegations of stalking are particularly broad and just became even broader.
Making Stalking-Related Definitions Even More Vague
At the same time the legislature created an entire new category for protection injunctions, it also watered down the stalking-related definitions.
For instance, it substantively changes the definition of the term “credible threat” to “a verbal or nonverbal threat, or a combination of the two, including a threat delivered by electronic communication or a threat implied by a pattern of conduct, which places the person who is the target of the threat in reasonable fear for his or her safety or the safety of his or her family members or individuals closely associated with the person, and which is made with the apparent ability to carry out the threat to cause such harm.”
Now, Florida law provides that it is not even necessary to prove that the person making the threat had the intent to actually carry out the threat.
The law also deleted the prior language requiring that the threat be against the life of, or a threat to cause bodily injury to, a person.
The bill removes “intent to place the person in reasonable fear of death or bodily injury” as an element of aggravated stalking as defined in s. 784.048(3), F.S. Consequently, under subsection (3), aggravated stalking occurs when a person willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person, and makes a credible threat to that person.
So now the focus is on the "fear for safety" of the complaining witness instead of the actual intentions of the person accused. When you add it all up, just about anything now constitutes stalking or cyberstaking.
Has anyone considered the fact that the stalkers will just use the new petitions for stalking protection injunctions to terrorize their victims? If you accept the fact that a person might stalk another person then why would you doubt the fact that a stalker will make false or exaggerated claims in a petition for a staking protection injunction? The pendulum has swung too far.
Leslie Sammis fights to protect her clients in injunction hearings against false claims of domestic violence, repeat violence, dating violence and stalking at the courthouse in Tampa and Plant City for Hillsborough County, FL.