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Florida Police Arrest Suspect for Repossessing Vehicle Used as Collateral

Most of the posts on this blog deal with various areas of Florida law or new trends in the law.  A subset of posts deals with the overly aggressive police and prosecutors who makes arrests and charge cases when either the law does not support it or the equities of the situation suggest government intervention is not necessary or appropriate.

In this case near Jacksonville, Florida, a bonding company agreed to post bond for a defendant.  The person putting up the bond provided the title to his vehicle as security for the bond.  The bond process in Florida works as follows: when a person is arrested, a judge will set a bond for that person in just about every case.  Once the bond is set, for example at $10,000, the defendant will remain in custody until his case is resolved unless a person posts a bond.  There are generally two ways to post the bond.  Someone can pay the full amount of $10,000 to the jail in cash. The benefit of this is that the person will get the money back (minus fees and costs in some cases), when the case is over no matter how it ends as long as the defendant does not skip court and run away.  Or, the person can pay a bonding company to bond the defendant out.  In this case, the bonding company will normally take 10%, or $1,000, as the fee.  The benefit to this is the person only has to come up with 10% of the bond, but that 10% is gone once it is paid because that is the fee to pay for the service the bonding company provides.  The bonding company is responsible for the other 90%.  However, many bonding companies will require security for that other 90% in case the defendant does run away.

In this case, the person gave the bonding company the title to his car as collateral.  The bonding company would have a right to claim the car if the defendant fled.  If not, the bonding company would return the title once the case was over.  The defendant ultimately fled, and the bonding company was forced to pay the full bond.  The bonding company went after the person who paid the 10% of the bond for the rest of the bond amount.  That person could not pay so the bonding company sought to take the vehicle.  After the bonding company representative took the vehicle, the owner reported the vehicle stolen.  The police arrested the bonding company agent for grand theft of the vehicle.

The criminal defense lawyer filed a motion for judgment of acquittal and showed the judge the documents that indicated the bonding company had a right to take the vehicle which was used as collateral.  However, the judge denied the motion.  The appellate court reversed the judge’s ruling.  In Florida, there is no crime of theft if the defendant takes the property with a good faith belief that he has a right to that property.  Therefore, a person who has an honest belief that he is entitled to take property should not be convicted of theft in Florida even if it turns out he was wrong.  Additionally, when the person takes the property openly without any attempts to conceal the taking, there is a presumption that the taking was legitimate.

In this case, the bonding company representative took the car during the day without trying to hide anything.  He even called the police and told them he was taking the car because the owner did not make his required payment.  Despite this clear evidence that the bonding company representative had a right to take the property based on the collateral arrangement with the owner, the police arrested him and the prosecutor prosecuted him.  Fortunately the conviction was reversed on appeal.