Friday, August 27, 2010

WFLA Channel 8 and TBO.com Seek Legal Advice on Cyberstalking from St. Petersburg Morris Law Firm

St. Petersburg Criminal Attorney and Former State Prosecutor Melinda Morris of the Morris Law Firm discusses the recent WFLA Channel 8 News and TBO.com piece on Facebook Places and the potential legal ramifications of Cyberstalking.








Issue:

WFLA Channel 8 News and TBO.com recently interviewed the Morris Law Firm for our legal opinion on Facebook Places, the popular social networking website’s new feature that allows users to check-in using a mobile phone with GPS technology based on their current location and share that information with friends and connections on the site.  While the new feature has gained attention in the media, users need to understand the potential legal issues surrounding use of the feature.

NOTE:  While the WFLA Channel 8 News piece aired on 8/20/10, and the TBO.com article framed the issue as how the new Facebook Places feature can help small businesses, “New Facebook app can help boost business,” the interview with Morris Law Firm’s managing partner, Melinda Morris, focused on how the new feature could enable cyberstalking and issues that those accused of Cyberstalking should be aware of.  A summary of those issues are found below:






Why This Matters To You:

Facebook Places allows users to tag where they are geographically using a mobile phone with GPS capabilities.  For example, a user who goes out to dinner may update their status on Facebook to show that they are at Carrabba's Italian Grill.  Their friends can then see their location and perhaps meet up with them.  Additionally, unless the user opts out (as of this writing), Facebook Places will also list the user in “Here Now,” which is a list of all other Facebook users currently at that location, be they friends or not.

The Facebook Places feature, while perhaps useful and certainly entertaining, can in fact unwittingly and unknowingly set someone up to be accused of Cyberstalking, a serious crime under Florida law.

As stated in Florida State Statue 748.08, “Cyberstalk means to engage 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.”

Cyberstalking can include elements of following or stalking an individual, thus, Facebook Places can clearly open the door to potential accusations of Cyberstalking.  A person can now easily ascertain the exact location of friends on Facebook, and even those they may not be directly acquainted with depending on the users’ individual privacy settings.  Given the popularity of Facebook and its easy access from computers and now mobile phones, one can quickly become ensnarled in allegations of Cyberstalking.

While using Facebook Places may seem innocuous, Cyberstalking is a first degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a $1000 fine.  Aggravated Cyberstalking carries even harsher penalties as it is a third degree felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison.

In many Cyberstalking cases there are potential defenses that may be utilized to reduce the charges, or even have the charges dropped altogether:

·         Victim Recantation
·         Lack of Intent
·         Alibi
·         Mistaken Identity
·         Failure to Read Miranda Warnings

[As an aside, and legal word of caution, one should carefully consider their Facebook privacy settings.  Broadcasting to the world that you and your family are on vacation could make your residence an easy target for the Facebook savvy burglar.]


What To Do Next:

If you have been arrested for Cyberstalking, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney before communicating and making statements to any law enforcement agencies or the State Attorney’s Office.  Contact the Morris Law Firm at (727) 388-4736 for a Free Initial Consultation.

If you have been arrested for Cyberstalking and/or Domestic Violence in St. Petersburg or Clearwater, Pinellas County, or Tampa, Hillsborough County, or Bradenton, Manatee, Polk, Pasco, or Sarasota Counties, FL contact a St. Petersburg Cyberstalking Attorney to discuss possible defenses that may exist in your case.  Call the Morris Law Firm at 727-388-4736 to discuss your case directly with an attorney, or fill out our Online Form to be contacted for a Free Initial Consultation.