In order to be convicted of a crime in Florida, a judge or jury has to find beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the specific offense with which you have been charged. That means the burden is on prosecutors to prove each individual element of an offense, including specific intent in many cases. Florida’s First District Court of appeal recently explained that shoplifting, for example, involves a different type of intent than fraud. The decision is important because a person can’t be convicted of a crime for which he or she hasn’t been charged, unless it’s considered a “lesser included offense.”
Defendant was charged with participating in a scheme to defraud, stemming from a series of alleged Wal-Mart shoplifting incidents in Live Oak. Prosecutors alleged that on various occasions Defendant entered the store, loaded items into a shopping cart, and then ran out of the store with those items without paying. Defendant argued that he should be acquitted of the charge because prosecutors didn’t show that he acted with the intent to defraud or that he made any misrepresentations as part of the alleged thefts. Prosecutors countered that Defendant misrepresented that he was “a lawful paying customer” every time he left the store without paying for the items.
The trial judge denied Defendant’s motion for acquittal. He was eventually convicted and sentenced to three years in prison and another two years of probation. Defendant later appealed the conviction.