The Purpose of Anti-Stalking Laws
In interpreting statutes, it is not enough just to look at the plain language of the law.
The intent of the legislature or any other body authorized to pass laws must be looked at to see what harm a law is attempting to prevent by making certain acts illegal.
Thirty years ago, the crime of stalking was virtually unheard of. Public attention was drawn to the problem after the murder of 21-year-old actress Rebecca Schaeffer in California.
Schaeffer, who starred in the television series My Sister Sam,was relatively new to stardom and attempted to answer all her fan mail personally.
She did so to one fan, Robert John Bardo, who became obsessed with her. On July 18, 1989, he went to Schaeffer’s apartment. When she opened the door, he told the young woman he was her biggest fan. She asked him to leave and closed the door.
Bardo later returned and when Schaeffer opened the door, he shot her once in the chest, killing her.
Schaeffer’s murder raised awareness of stalking, not only with respect to celebrities, but to other people as well. It was after the actress’s death that jurisdictions throughout the West began enacting anti-stalking laws.
The main purpose of the offense is to make unwanted acts, that may be viewed as innocent when looked at in isolation, criminal when done repeatedly and cause the object of those acts emotional distress or fear.
Stalking: Repeating Unwanted Contact
Sending an unwanted gift or going to a stranger’s home, or following someone to meet them would not constitute stalking unless the activity is repeated to the point of reasonably causing the stranger emotional distress or fear.
Whether looking at the intent of the legislation, or the plain meaning of the words of Section 784.048 of the Florida Statutes, it is clear that in the eyes of the law, Zimmerman did not stalk Martin on the evening the teen was shot.
Florida State Legislature. The 2012 Florida Statutes, Section 784.048. (2013). Accessed July 23, 2013.
CNN. 911 calls paint picture of chaos after Florida teen is shot. (2012). Accessed July 23, 2013.
The Free Dictionary. Criminal activity consisting of the repeated following and harassing of another person. (2013). Accessed July 23, 2013.
TruTV. Stalkers: The Psychological Terrorist. (2013). Accessed July 23, 2013.
Decoding Science. One article at a time.