Want to Threaten Harm to Someone? Think Again
The United States Constitution provides broad protection to freedom of speech. But not all speech is free, and you can’t say anything you want without being punished. In particular, making threats to someone is a crime in Florida, which might surprise people who get into emotional arguments on social media or while texting.
If you have made a rash threat to cause bodily harm to someone, don’t be surprised if the police come knocking at your door. Fortunately, you might be able to fight the charges if you have the right Daytona Beach criminal defense attorney by your side.
Florida Laws that Criminalize Threats
Our state has passed many laws that criminalize threats and other threatening behavior. For example, you should be aware of the following:
- Under Florida statute § 836.10, it is a second-degree felony to send a threat to kill or bodily injure another person and to send it by letter or electronic communication. The law does not require that you actually intend to harm the recipient. Sending the threat is sufficient. You could face up to 15 years in Florida prison if convicted.
- Florida statute § 784.048(2) criminalizes cyberstalking, which is a course of conduct via electronic means intended to cause emotional distress for no legitimate reason. This is a first-degree misdemeanor, which could land you in county jail for up to a year.
- Cyberstalking someone under age 16 is a third-degree felony which could land you in state prison for up to 5 years.
- Under § 784.048(3), your cyberstalking could be upgraded to a third-degree felony if you include a credible threat which causes a person to fear for their safety. If convicted, you could spend up to 5 years in state prison.
How to Defend against these Charges
Many people pop off and say something on social media that they later regret. Does this mean that you will automatically end up in jail or prison?
Maybe not, because there are some common defenses you can raise that will reduce the charges or get them tossed altogether. Depending on the circumstances, you might be able to argue:
- There is insufficient proof that you composed the message or sent it. Someone else might have used your phone or logged into your social media account.
- The “threat” is actually a figure of speech. Something like “you’ll get thrown under the bus” is a common phrase meaning “you will receive blame,” not a literal threat to hurt you. There might be other figures of speech that do not qualify as threats.
- The tone or content was hostile but there was no actual threat of death or bodily injury.
There are also some defenses to cyberstalking:
- The recipient did not feel fear or distress. For example, someone might claim you are stalking them on Twitter but still engage you in conversations despite being allegedly “afraid.” This evidence suggests they are not sufficiently bothered for the conduct to qualify as cyberstalking.
- There is no credible threat contained in your communications, so the crime is at most a first-degree misdemeanor.
Contact a Volusia County Criminal Defense Attorney
If the police contact you about cyberstalking or making threats, you should meet with an attorney as soon as possible. The sooner you begin building a defense, the better your chances of beating the charge.
Bundza & Rodriguez is a leading criminal defense firm. You can meet with us by calling 386-252-5170.