Tuesday, September 14, 2010

WFLA Channel 8 and TBO.com Seek Legal Advice on Stalking / 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 the University of Florida Gators' Chris Rainey being charged with sending a threatening text and the potential legal ramifications of Stalking / Cyberstalking.


Issue:

WFLA Channel 8 News and TBO.com recently interviewed the Morris Law Firm for our legal opinion on the University of Florida Gators' Chris Rainey being charged with sending a threatening text and the potential legal ramifications of Stalking using electronic communications or Cyberstalking.

Rainey was accused of sending a threatening text message that read, “Time to Die,” to his girlfriend Kelley Anderson.  The text message was apparently sent after Rainey visited Anderson’s apartment during an argument and she asked him to leave.  Rainey was subsequently arrested for aggravated stalking, a third degree felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison, and taken to Alachua County jail.  He was later released on his own recognizance after his accuser asked that the charges be dropped.



Why This Matters To You:

Previous to methods of electronic communication being widely available, stalking required significant preparation and effort.  Examples include a stalker following their victim to work, place of business, or school; or a perpetrator talking the time to construct a letter with threatening dialogue and send it to the victim.

Today, electronic communication mechanisms are far more prevalent and easy to access including cell phone Text Messages, Facebook, Twitter, and email with which someone can send a message within seconds without the ability to recall or retract the communication.  Now someone in a heightened state of emotions may send a simple, albeit imprudent text message that can be interpreted by the law as Stalking or worse Aggravated Stalking as it was in this case.

With the inability to read facial cues, tone of voice, and intent associated with electronic communications it is often difficult to properly gauge the credibility of the threat.  Potential victims of Stalking / Cyberstalking should carefully consider if the threat is real and credible as the accusation of Stalking carries with it significant legal and social repercussions for the accused.  The law should never be used as a referee or for revenge.  In this case, Anderson actually appeared at Rainey’s court appearance and stated, “I don't fear for my safety. I think he should be released on his own recognizance."

For the accused, there are significant legal and social consequences.  Rainey will have an arrest record for a third degree felony even though the charges may ultimately be dropped.  In this case, while the State Attorney is taking no immediate action, there still exists the possibility that Rainey will face criminal charges.  Additionally, the University of Florida Gators’ offensive coordinator Steve Addazio stated that Rainey is not currently part of the team, and his long term athletic career beyond college may be affected.  Rainey is also currently subject to a curfew.

The lesson in this case is that what may start as an ill advised text message could lead to serious legal ramifications:

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 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 Stalking / 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


What To Do Next:

If you have been arrested for Stalking or Cyberstalking (or Domestic Violence), contact a St. Petersburg Cyberstalking Attorney to discuss possible defenses and specific strategies 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.  The Morris Law Firm can help and has specific knowledge and experience in defending Stalking or Cyberstalking offenders throughout Pinellas County and the entire Tampa Bay, FL Area (St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Tampa, Hillsborough, Pasco, Bradenton, Manatee, and Sarasota).