Articles Posted in Grand Theft

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.”

Legal News GavelDefendant 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.

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Jury instructions are a critical part of any criminal case. They focus the attention of the jury on the factual determinations that they have to make in order to find someone guilty of a crime. A recent case out of Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal is a good example of just how big an impact bad instructions can have, as well as some of the ways courts try to remedy an instructions mistake.

Legal News GavelA defendant was charged with exploiting an elderly person or disabled adult in 2009 after he and his girlfriend allegedly took advantage of his 79-year-old aunt. The woman had an eighth grade education and had been living in her home for more than 40 years when the defendant and his girlfriend moved in. He convinced his aunt to take out a reverse mortgage on the property, according to the court. She obtained more than $150,000 as a result of the transaction, which the defendant then allegedly used to buy himself two luxury cars. Prosecutors presented evidence showing that the aunt suffered from dementia at the time and was unable to understand or consent to the reverse mortgage transaction.

At the time, state law made it a crime for a person in a position of confidence or trust to take advantage of an elderly or disabled person by knowingly deceiving or intimidating them. The law also made it a crime if the person simply knew or should have known that the victim lacked the capacity to consent. Although prosecutors proceeded on the second theory, the court didn’t tell the jury that prosecutors were required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knew or should have known that his aunt couldn’t consent. In fact, the judge didn’t mention the “knew or should have known” element at all. The defendant was eventually convicted.

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Plea deals can be a valuable tool for anyone charged with a crime in Florida. These arrangements allow a person to start to move on with his or her life after being charged with a Florida gun crime or another offense by working out a resolution that often includes a lesser punishment in exchange for pleading guilty. It is important, however, for anyone considering a plea deal to understand that the punishment can be enhanced if you don’t abide by the terms of the deal. Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal recently took on the case of a Florida man who was thrown behind bars after allegedly violating the terms of his house arrest.

Legal News GavelThe defendant entered into a plea deal with Florida prosecutors after he was charged with armed robbery, grand theft, and petit theft. He agreed to plead guilty to the grand theft charge, and the prosecutors agreed to drop the other charges. He was sentenced to two years of supervised house arrest, followed by three years of probation. As part of the house arrest, he was required to stay at his home and permitted to leave the property only for school, work, community service, and other limited purposes.

The defendant was later charged with violating the terms of his release by leaving the residence without an approved reason and failing to submit to electronic monitoring. Following a hearing, he was sentenced to three years in state prison. The judge said the defendant posed a threat to the community, based partly on some of the original allegations against the defendant in the robbery and theft case. He appealed the decision, arguing that the judge should not have taken into account any allegations related to the charges that were dropped. The Fifth District agreed in part.

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Legal News GavelThe value of the stolen items is a required element in proving a Florida theft crime. The greater the value of the allegedly stolen item, the harsher the potential penalty. There are a variety of methods that the parties to a theft crime use to establish the value of a stolen item. A November 2017 Fifth District Court of Appeals decision overturned a grand theft conviction because the prosecution had failed to establish the value of the property beyond a reasonable doubt.

The court in this case relied on a 2013 decision, C.G. v. State of Florida, to determine the appropriate method to establish the valuation of stolen property under Florida law. At trial, the defendant was convicted of first-degree petit theft for stealing a cell phone with a value of $100 or more but less than $300. The Fifth District court held that there was not sufficient evidence to show that the cell phone’s value was at least $100.

The victim of the theft testified that he paid $200 for the cell phone six months before the theft and that the cell phone was in essentially the same condition at the time it was stolen as it was when it was purchased. The court, in reciting the applicable law, stated that the value of a stolen item at the time of the theft must be established beyond a reasonable doubt. Value may be established through direct testimony of fair market value. In the absence of direct testimony, its value can be established through evidence of:  (1) the original market cost; (2) the manner in which the property was used; (3) the condition of the property; and (4) the percentage of depreciation of the items since the purchase.

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Restrictions against double jeopardy, the prosecution of a person twice for the same offense, are a foundational protection for criminal defendants. In fact, the protection is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment. Often, it’s easy to identify when a subsequent prosecution would constitute double jeopardy. For instance, if a defendant is found not guilty of a crime by a jury, another prosecutor is not permitted to try the defendant again for the same crime with a different jury.Legal News Gavel

However, a recent Florida theft decision considered whether the prosecution of both carjacking and burglary of a conveyance is effectively trying a defendant for the same crime twice.

Florida Statute section 775.021(4) provided the rules of construction that served as the basis for the court’s double jeopardy analysis. Criminals are generally tried and convicted for all of the crimes that occurred in a criminal transaction or episode; however, an exception to this rule is if separate offenses require proof of the same elements of, or are subsumed by, another offense.

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