In Florida, there are a variety of criminal statutes that deal with fraudulently using a credit card or altering a credit card to use it in an unauthorized manner. When a defendant allegedly violates one of these criminal statutes, it is up to the state to make sure they charge the appropriate crime. If they do not use the correct charge, the case might get thrown out.
For instance, in a case just south of Jacksonville, Florida, the defendant had apparently used altered gift cards to purchase items at a grocery store. The manager at the grocery store noticed that the gift cards had been altered and called the police. When the police arrived and arrested the suspect, they found more altered gift cards in his possession. The state charged the defendant under a Florida statute that deals with using an altered credit card to fraudulently obtain goods or services. The criminal defense attorney moved to dismiss the charges because the credit card statute does not apply to gift cards. Under the statute, the term “credit card” is specifically defined. The statute gives examples of different cards that apply. Each example refers to a card that is issued for the use of the cardholder. The “cardholder” is also defined under Florida law as the person or organization whose name is on the card and for whom the card was issued.
As most people know, gift cards generally are not issued for a specific user. They normally do not have the name of the recipient printed on the card. Therefore, because the Florida criminal statute specifically refers to credit cards which are defined a certain way, and gift cards do not fall under the definition of credit cards, the criminal defense attorney argued that the defendant could not be guilty of that crime. The court agreed, and the case was dismissed.
This does not mean that the defendant was not guilty of a crime under Florida law. This was clearly a situation where the defendant escaped through a loophole caused by the negligence of the state. What happened was the state was not careful in charging the appropriate crime. Since they charged a crime that technically did not fit the particular facts of the case, they lost. It is important for criminal defense lawyers to check the specifics of the statutes the state uses when charging their clients. There are times when the law does not match the facts, in which case the state cannot go forward as intended.
In some cases, when you purchase a gift card, the store employee will write the beneficiary’s name on the gift card by hand. If that happened in this case, I would guess that this statute would apply, and it would be a credit card under the statute. However, generic gift cards without a name are not considered credit cards under this particular criminal statute.