Can You Be Arrested For Defamation Or Slander In Florida?
Alyssa checked her social media accounts to find someone tagged her in an offense post and claimed she illegally obtained her job through coercion and bribery. The post was shared and reposted multiple times and has gone viral, even reaching her employer. Even though it’s not true, Alyssa is worried about her professional future and her reputation. She also feels unsafe online. Is there anything she can do? What about the person spreading lies about her?
What is Defamation?
In our hypothetical, Alyssa can inform the authorities of the post and of the poster’s identity. She also has the option to sue the defendant in civil court for damages. Florida is one of a slim majority of states that still upholds criminal penalties for defamation. Florida statute defines defamation as a false statement, made orally or in writing that the person writing knows is false but tries to depict as truth, for the purposes of damaging the victim’s character or reputation. Slander is oral defamation. Libel is written defamation. In today’s age, libel is extremely common online, on social media, public forums and discussion boards. Misinformation continues to proliferate fact and truth. Information, even falsely made, can be distributed quickly and efficiently with serious implications for the sender. A victim of libel or slander has the right to sue the defendant for civil liability, however the burden of proof is on the victim to establish their loss is attributed to the defendant’s actions.
Criminal Penalties for Libel & Slander
Because slander and libel are considered crimes in Florida, the defendant could be facing criminal penalties and civil penalties if the State decides to press charges. The criminal penalty for libel is a first degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 1 year in jail in addition to fines. Fla. Stat. § 836.01. Libel includes sending a threatening or demeaning letter to the victim such as a death threat. A defendant can also be charged with extortion depending on the nature of the written threat, and whether the defendant threatens to harm the victim or their family should the victim speak out or refrain from doing an act against their will (such as testifying against the defendant in court).
A defendant can also be criminally penalized for defamation in Florida if they make negative comments about a woman’s salacious behavior, promiscuity or chastity intended to defame or demean the woman. Fla. Stat. §836. 04. If convicted of defamation, the defendant is charged with a first degree misdemeanor for which he or she must serve up to 1 year in jail. Florida is one of the only states for which defamation remains a crime. With that said, it is important to exercise caution and decorum on internet platforms, online and in writing. Do not say anything to someone with the intention of belittling or humiliating another person if it is not true, or you could be charged with a crime.
Contact an Attorney Today for Help
In the world of social media, 160 characters can define a person. It also has the potential to destroy a person’s reputation or incur criminal penalties and a federal investigation. Sometimes people say things they do not mean, or without context, maybe without realizing that others take offense or that they are harming someone. That said, it is important to think twice before aimlessly posting or speaking about someone negatively if you are not sure about the facts. If you were charged with a defamation, slander or libel crime, you need legal representation. Tampa criminal attorney Byrant Scriven has a unique perspective and skillset as a former prosecutor. Call him today to schedule a free consultation.