Articles Posted in Theft Crimes

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In Florida, a person can be convicted of theft, which can be a felony or misdemeanor charge, depending on the value of the item stolen, if he/she takes the property of another with the intent to deprive that person of the property. The intent can be to permanently take the property or temporarily take the property. So, a defendant testifying that he/she intended to return the property is not necessarily a defense to a theft charge.

In Florida, a theft case can become a robbery case if the suspect used force either during the theft or after the theft when he/she was trying to get away. However, it would be possible for a person to commit a theft without force, abandon the property and then subsequent force would not be the basis for a robbery charge. A robbery charge is a felony and likely much more serious than a standard theft charge.

In a recent case near Jacksonville, Florida, the suspect stole some items from a department store. He was seen by store security and followed out of the store. The security officer chased the suspect, and the stolen items either fell out of the suspect’s jacket or were intentionally dropped. Thereafter, the officer caught the suspect who showed a gun to the officer and told him to back away. Even though the suspect did not use force or show the gun during the theft, he could still be charged with armed robbery for using the gun to get away with the theft. However, if he had abandoned the theft prior to showing the gun, the defendant could argue the two events were unrelated and a armed robbery charge was inappropriate.

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That question is too general to answer because it really depends on the circumstances of each case and what specific evidence the police officer has before he/she conducts a stop of a suspect. In our last blog entry, we discussed a case where a person was driving slowly and stopping in front of different houses in a neighborhood in which a lot of burglaries had recently taken place. The police officer stopped the suspect and arrested him for loitering and prowling which led to an arrest for burglary. It is possible that the initial stop was lawful, but the arrest for loitering and prowling was not because it was based on general suspicions rather than specific evidence.

In a similar burglary case near Jacksonville, Florida, the police officer was patrolling an area that also had a lot of recent burglaries. In the middle of the day, he saw the suspect wearing a hooded sweatshirt near the front door of a house in that area. He kept watching as the suspect walked around the house, opened a gate and walked towards the backyard. He appeared to cover his head with the hood as he did this. When the suspect walked back towards the front of the house, the police officer stopped him. The suspect named the person he was there to see, but that person did not live there. The police officer also observed that the suspect had gloves in his sweatshirt pocket. The police officer arrested him at that time. He later found evidence that the suspect had committed burglaries in the area.

The criminal defense lawyer challenged the initial stop of the defendant and the ultimately arrest. In order for the initial stop to be valid, the police officer must establish specific facts indicating the defendant was about to commit, or was committing, a crime, such as burglary or trespass. Mere suspicion is not enough.

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In Florida, burglary of a dwelling is a serious felony crime. The crime of burglary of a dwelling is committed when a person enters or remains in a dwelling with the intent to commit a crime therein. Burglary of a dwelling is normally considered much more serious than burglary of other structures because a burglary involving a dwelling carries the risk that unsuspecting occupants will be present which raises the risk of violence and other serious issues. However, the Florida legal definition of a dwelling is fairly broad and includes places where people are not likely to be present. A dwelling is defined as basically any building with a roof over it that was designed to be occupied by people. It can also include an attached porch and the immediate area surrounding the main structure.

In a recent case near Jacksonville, Florida, a defendant was charged with burglary of a dwelling after he entered a home that was being renovated and robbed the guy who was putting up the drywall. The criminal defense lawyer argued that it could not be a burglary of a dwelling because the home was being renovated and clearly was not being inhabited by anyone at the time. The court disagreed and allowed the conviction. The law states that whether the building is occupied is not the critical element. Rather, it is the design of the building, and if it is a structure designed to be lived in by someone and it has not been drastically changed to make lodging unsuitable, it qualifies as a dwelling even if no one is occupying it at the time or intends to occupy it in the near future. So, the bottom line here is that if a person enters with intent to commit a crime any place that appears to be inhabited by people, inhabitable by people or originally designed to be inhabited by people, the state can charge that person with burglary of a dwelling.

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It seems obvious, but to prove a theft case in Florida, the state has to prove that the defendant intended to steal the property at the time he/she took the property. This is fairly obvious in most theft cases, but it can become a problem for the state when a defendant is charged with theft in a commercial context. For instance, consider a case where the alleged victim hires a defendant to renovate his home and pays the defendant a certain amount in advance. If the defendant starts the project but fails to complete it and refuses to return the money, is this a crime of theft in Florida?

It depends. There are situations where a person pays another to do something in advance and the work does not get done but for reasons beyond the defendant’s control, or at least for reasons not anticipated when the money was taken. The defendant’s materials could have been stolen, the price of materials could have gone up so that the original terms were no longer feasible or any other unforeseen problem could arise. In those cases, if the work was not done due to unanticipated circumstances, it would not be a theft. The victim would have to seek recourse in the civil courts.

A person can be charged and convicted of theft for taking money and promising to do something in the future, but the state would have to prove that the defendant did not intend to perform the service at the time he/she took the money. This can be difficult in a business context. These cases are often best left up to the civil courts where the victim can sue the defendant for breach of contract. In a criminal case, if the defendant started the work or has a valid excuse as to why he/she could not perform the work, it is likely not a criminal theft case.

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In theft cases in Florida, restitution is usually a critical issue. Restitution is the term the defines the amount of money (or the value of the stolen item(s)) that needs to be repaid to compensate the victim. Whenever a defendant pleads guilty to a theft or fraud crime, or gets convicted at a trial, the judge will normally order the defendant to pay restitution to compensate the victim for what was stolen, if applicable. While the case is pending, the matter of restitution will likely be a negotiated issue between the state and the criminal defense lawyer.

A judge is not allowed to increase a defendant’s sentence because he/she cannot pay restitution. Likewise, a judge is not allowed to condition a reduction in a defendant’s sentence upon the payment of some or all of the restitution. Such actions would violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution which forbids the court from treating people differently based on their wealth, or lack thereof.

That is what the law says, but in reality whether a defendant can pay restitution, and how much he/she can pay, usually matters. In some cases, it can be the most significant factor in negotiations. The law says that the the judge cannot condition a lighter sentence on the payment of restitution or order a harsher sentence because the defendant cannot pay restitution, but in practice, when a defendant can pay some or all of the restitution in advance, the defendant’s criminal defense attorney can often use that to the defendant’s advantage and work out a much better sentence than when no restitution payments can be made in advance. After all, at the end of the day, getting his/her money back is usually a victim’s top priority.

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In Florida, the crime of petit theft involves taking the property of another without authorization and without threats or force. If the value of the property is less than $300, it is a misdemeanor crime. A misdemeanor petit theft conviction is not extremely serious, but it can result in jail time and can certainly affect a person’s criminal record permanently depending on the outcome. However, in pretty much every scenario, a misdemeanor charge is much better and less serious than a felony charge.

Many petit theft cases are shoplifting cases (which is not a legal term). Many shoplifting cases involves less than $300 and are misdemeanor cases. However, a shoplifting/petit theft case that involves stealing $100 worth of merchandise can become a felony if an anti-shoplifting device is used.

In a recent petit theft case near Jacksonville, Florida, the defendant was seen in the store with what appeared to be a thick, heavy and worn shopping bag from a different store. The store security officer watched as the defendant put various clothing items (worth approximately $150) in the bag, walk past the cashiers and walk past the sensors at the exits without paying. The sensors did not activate. The security officer stopped the defendant and found various store merchandise items in the bag. He also took possession of the bag. Apparently, the bag was actually a few shopping bags taped together. One of the inside bags had been lined with aluminum and duct tape. The purpose of this lining was to prevent the alarm sensors in the store from going off. Apparently, that part of the plan worked.

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In Florida, robbery is a serious felony offense that occurs when a person takes the property of another by the use of force, the threat of force, violence or putting the victim in fear of violence. Robbery is a second degree felony in Florida if no firearm or other weapon is used. If a weapon is used, then it becomes a first degree felony.

The definition of robbery would seem to require that the victim be placed in fear of violence. However, that is not the case. In a recent robbery case south of Jacksonville, Florida, the defendant went into a bank and gave the teller a note saying she was being robbed and to give him the money. Apparently, the teller was not worried about the defendant doing anything violent to her, but she did give him money. After the defendant was caught, his criminal defense lawyer argued that he did not commit a robbery because the defendant did not use force or place the victim in fear of violence. The victim agreed. However, the defendant was still convicted of robbery. Under Florida law, the defendant commits a robbery even if he does not place the victim in fear, if a reasonable person would have been in fear of violence under those circumstances. The court decided that although this victim was not in fear, a reasonable person would have been so the defendant’s robbery conviction was confirmed.

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In Florida, burglary is a very serious felony crime. Generally, a burglary is committed by entering some structure with the intent to commit a theft or some other crime inside. A person does not need to actually go all the way into the structure to commit the crime of burglary. Additionally, a person does not need to actually commit a crime inside to commit a burglary. if the evidence establishes that the defendant partially entered the structure and intended to commit a crime inside, then a burglary may be proven.

However, one element of a burglary is that the defendant must not have authorization to enter the structure. In other words, if the defendant had permission to enter the structure, it is unlikely that he/she can be found guilty of burglary. This issue often arises when a person is staying with the victim or perhaps use to stay with the victim and apparently moved out but still comes over to the residence. In those cases, if the defendant can present some evidence that he/she had consent to be in the structure, the state then has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not have permission to enter the structure. It will depend on the circumstances of the case, but the defendant can argue that he/she used to live there, had a key, still had some possessions there, had a relationship with the owner and other factors indicating a right to be there. If the state fails to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not have permission to be there, then the state cannot prove a burglary was committed.

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In Florida, it is a burglary to enter a dwelling with the intent to commit a theft or felony therein. A dwelling is not just a residence, but can be any number of structures or vehicles. A person does not have to actually go all the way into the structure. The crime of burglary can be complete just by putting a hand through a window or open door.

In a recent burglary case near Jacksonville, Florida, the defendant went onto the front porch of a residence and kicked the door causing the door to open and the door frame to break. When the occupant yelled out, the defendant fled. The police were called and arrested the defendant nearby. The defendant was charged with burglary of an occupied dwelling. At the trial, the defendant testified that he just intended to kick the door and run. He said he never intended to enter the home for any reason.

The burglary charge was ultimately thrown out. The state could prove that the defendant’s foot entered the home, if only briefly and by inches, and that was sufficient to establish the “enter a dwelling” element. However, the state also has to prove that the defendant entered the home with an intent to commit some crime inside the home. Sometimes, this element is proven with circumstantial evidence and/or an assumption that, What else would he be doing breaking into a house?, but in this case, there was no evidence to refute the defense that the defendant was just playing a prank on the homeowner by kicking the door. As a result, the state could not prove a burglary beyond a reasonable doubt.

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Police often get reports from homeowners that they hired a contractor to do work on their homes, paid the contractor an initial fee to do the work and then the contractor quit the job without completing the work. Sometimes, the police will ignore the complaint and tell the homeowner that it is a civil matter that must be handled with a lawsuit. Other times, the police will pursue the complaint and arrest the contractor for grand theft.

These contractor disputes can be a misunderstanding as to the cost of the work and materials or some other honest mistake that has delayed or inhibited the work that was promised. In those cases, a grand theft charge is not appropriate. Other times, a contractor will take a person’s money, promise to do the work and just not do it. These cases can be the basis for a legitimate grand theft charge.

In a recent grand theft case involving a contractor near Jacksonville, Florida, the homeowner hired the contractor to replace her cabinets. They agreed on the plans, and the homeowner paid him $4,000 for the work. The contractor made promises about the work he would do and that he would get the materials and start promptly. After she paid him, the contractor was difficult to get in touch with, did not come by the house often and only worked on the project periodically. After a couple of weeks, the contractor never returned to the house to finish the work. She tried to contact him by letter and email, but he did not respond. Police looked into the contractor’s bank records which showed that he deposited the homeowner’s check and then wrote some checks for matters unrelated to the work to be done on her house.