In Florida, prosecutors often charge someone with burglary even when there is no direct evidence that the defendant was at the house, business or other location that was burglarized. Generally, a burglary involves a person entering some structure with the intent to commit a theft or other crime once inside. Where a suspect gets caught breaking into a house or leaving a house with stolen property, a burglary charge is easier to prove. However, many burglary cases in Florida are brought even when there is no direct evidence establishing the defendant was at the location that was burglarized. There is a jury instruction in Florida that says a jury can consider the fact that the defendant was in possession of stolen property shortly after the burglary to find a defendant guilty of burglary. This is the case if it is clear the property was in fact stolen and the issue is whether the defendant was the one who stole it. This instruction does not come into play when the defendant admits he/she took the property, but, perhaps, defends the case by saying he/she had a right to take it.
For example, in many cases, there will be a burglary of a house, car or other structure that can be pinpointed to a certain time, i.e. a victim hears that his car is bring broken into and immediately calls the police at 5:00 p.m. The victim says his laptop computer was stolen from his vehicle. The police will likely check local pawn shops. If the police uncover evidence showing the pawn shop that is 10 minutes away from the victim’s car has a pawn ticket and fingerprint from the defendant indicating he pawned the laptop computer at 5:15 p.m., that defendant will likely be charged with burglary, among other charges. While there may be no direct evidence, i.e. an eyewitness, that the defendant broke into the car and physically took the laptop, the state can get an instruction to the jury telling them they can consider the fact that the defendant had the stolen property shortly after the theft when considering a burglary charge. The defendant can always refute this instruction by claiming he had a reason why he had that stolen property unrelated to the burglary. This usually takes the form of a defendant claiming a friend gave it to him to sell or he bought it from a stranger and resold it. However, the closer the defendant’s possession of the stolen property is in time to the burglary, the less credible that kind of defense will be.