Articles Posted in Theft Crimes

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.

In Florida, it is a burglary to enter the premises of another with the intent to commit a theft or other felonies. In order to prove a burglary case, the state has to prove the owner of the premises. The state cannot just prove that the defendant did not own the premises; the state has to prove who did own the premises at the time of the burglary. Of course, this is fairly easy and straightforward when the burglary is of a person’s home or automobile. However, when the burglary is of a commercial property, determining the owner of the premises may be more difficult.

The Florida courts changed the law years ago to allow the state to allege that the manager on duty is the owner of the premises for the purposes of a burglary charge,. The idea is that the manager has lawful control of the premises so he/she can be listed as the owner in a burglary case.

However, criminal defense lawyers should watch for a situation where the state lists an employee of the business as the owner. When the police respond to a burglary of a business, they often only get the name of whomever reports the crime or is present when the police arrive. The prosecutor may never get the name of an owner or manager and/or may not know the law requires the prosecutor to state the name of the owner or manager in the burglary charge. If the state files a burglary charge involving a business and lists an employee as the owner, or someone else who is not the owner or manager of the business, the state cannot prove a case of burglary because all of the essential elements are not met. The criminal defense lawyer should move for a judgment of acquittal after the state fails to provide evidence of the owner or manager of the premises.

In Florida, robbery involves taking the property of another with the use of violence, force or placing the victim in fear of violence. If no firearm or other weapon is used, robbery is a second degree felony which carries a maximum penalty of up to 15 years in prison. Of course, if a gun or other weapon is used to commit the robbery, the robbery charge can be much more serious.

Issues do arise in robbery cases surrounding when the force is used. In order for the crime of robbery to be committed, the force must be used “in the course of the taking” of the property. What exactly that means has not always been clear. As a result, the robbery law was changed to clarify what is “in the course of the taking.” The robbery statute defines that time period as the period prior to the taking, contemporaneous with the taking and subsequent to the taking. Read literally, that includes all of the time. The statue does narrow the time period down to require the force to be used in a continuous series of acts with the taking.

Obviously, if force is used immediately prior to the taking to put the suspect in a better position to take the property, if force is used as the suspect takes the property and if force is used immediately after the taking in order to get away with the property, the state will have a stronger robbery case. However, if some time elapses between the force and the taking, or the taking and the force, the incident is less likely to be a robbery.

In Florida, the crime of dealing in stolen property is committed when a person “deals” in property that he/she knows or should know is stolen. This is a second degree felony that is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

So how does the state prove that a person knew or should have known the property was stolen? Obviously the defendant can make it easy on the state and admit that he/she knew the property was stolen. However, absent a confession by the defendant, the state must rely on circumstantial evidence to prove the defendant knew or should have known the property was stolen. One way the state endeavors to prove this crime is by showing that the defendant was in possession of the stolen property shortly after it was stolen. If a burglary happened at noon and the defendant is seen pawning one of the stolen items at 2:00 pm, the state is entitled to argue that the defendant was involved in the burglary and knew the property was stolen.

What about when the defendant is selling the stolen property days or weeks after the theft? The defendant can argue that he/she obtained the property in any number of legitimate ways during that time. One way the state can try to circumstantially prove the defendant knew or should have known the property was stolen when the defendant sold it at a later date is the price for which the defendant sold the property. If the defendant sold the property for a price that is much lower than the value of the property, than the state will argue the defendant knew or should have known the property was stolen. In fact, the state may be entitled to an instruction from the judge to the jury in the dealing in stolen property case that instructs the jury that they can infer that the defendant knew or should have known the property was stolen based on the sale price. The defendant can provide an explanation for why he/she sold the property for substantially less than its value, but evidence of such a sale may be enough to prove that the defendant knew or should have known the property was stolen and a conviction for dealing in stolen property.

In Florida, a burglary is committed when a person enters a residence, vehicle or other structure with the intent to commit certain crimes therein. Most of the time, the crime that the person intends to commit is a theft. Burglary is a serious felony crime in Florida.

One obvious way the state attempts to prove a burglary is by showing that the defendant was in possession of the stolen property shortly after the alleged burglary. In fact, there is a jury instruction the judge will give telling the jury they can infer that the defendant committed the burglary if he/she was found in possession of the recently stolen items. However, there are two issues that often come up with this jury instruction in a burglary case.

First, the defendant must be in possession of the stolen items shortly after the burglary. If the police find the defendant with the stolen items weeks or months later, this inference would likely not apply. In a recent burglary case near Jacksonville, Florida, the defendant was found in possession of the stolen items three months after the burglary. The court found that three months was not recent possession of stolen property so the state was not entitled to a jury instruction telling the jury they could infer he was guilty of the burglary because he was in recent possession of the stolen items.

In Florida, burglary of a dwelling is a very serious felony crime. Burglary clearly includes entering someone’s residence with the intent to steal something inside. However, in Florida, a burglary can include more than just a person’s home. A dwelling is defined as not just the home but also any attached porch. For instance, if a home had an enclosed porch attached, it would be a burglary if a person entered the porch area and stole something even if he/she never entered the actual residence.

Some residences have porch areas that are not enclosed. The porch may consist merely of a concrete slab that abuts a part of the house. If a person walks onto a unenclosed porch to steal property, is that a burglary of a dwelling?

In a recent burglary case in Jacksonville, Florida the defendant was arrested for stealing a bicycle that was on or near an unenclosed porch area that was partially covered by the second floor balcony. The porch area was in front of the residence and had no posts or enclosures indicating it was an attachment to the home.

In Florida, grand theft is a felony charge that can be more or less serious depending on the nature of the charge and the amount or value of the property that was allegedly stolen. In some cases, there is a fine line between a civil dispute where one side loses out and a criminal case where one of the sides actually commits a theft. There is no objective criteria that determine whether a loss is a criminal grand theft or a civil dispute more properly addressed with a civil lawsuit. On the front end, it is up to the police and the prosecutor whether they move forward with a criminal grand theft charge. If they do, it is ultimately up to a judge or jury to decide if a criminal grand theft offense has been committed.

If the prosecutor charges a defendant with grand theft, the defendant has certain defenses available to him/her. One defense is the good faith belief that the defendant was entitled to the property taken. If the judge or jury finds that the defendant had a good faith belief that he/she was entitled to take the property, that is a complete defense to a grand theft charge. This defense is valid even if the defendant’s good faith entitlement belief was mistaken and unreasonable. This is true because in order to prove that a defendant committed the crime of grand theft, the state must prove the defendant acted with the specific intent to steal the object taken. If the defendant honestly believed he/she had a right to take the property, the state could not prove the essential element of intent to steal.

Of course, a defendant charged with grand theft cannot just tell a judge or jury that he/she thought the property was his/hers and walk away. There must be some evidence, circumstantial or otherwise, indicating the defendant had an honest belief he/she was entitled to take the property. Whether the evidence suggests the defendant thought the property was his/hers or a contract between the parties suggested the defendant could take the property, there must be something that indicates a legitimate belief in an entitlement to the property. If the defendant can establish that, a charge of grand theft will fail.

In Florida, there are separate crimes for theft, robbery and robbery by sudden snatching. Under the Florida criminal laws, a theft occurs when someone takes the property of another without permission either permanently or temporarily. This crime does not involve taking the property by force or threat. For instance, if the victim left her purse on her desk and the suspect came in and took it while she was gone, that would be theft. Theft can range from a misdemeanor to a first degree felony depending on the value of the property taken or other factors.

In Florida, a robbery occurs when a person takes the property of another without permission by use of force, violence or threat of violence. An example would be where a woman was walking with her purse and the suspect pushes her down and takes the purse or otherwise wrestles the purse away from her. Robbery is a second degree felony punishable by a maximum of 15 years in prison. However, if the suspect had or used a deadly weapon during the robbery, it becomes a first degree felony.

In Florida, robbery by sudden snatching involves taking property from another when the property is on that person and is aware of the taking. As example would be where the woman was walking with her purse in her hand the the suspect grabs the purse and runs away. However, if the purse was close to the victim but not on her person and the suspect took it without violence or a threat, it would likely just be a theft. Robbery by sudden snatching is a third degree felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison if no deadly weapon was possessed or used. If the suspect used a weapon, then the crime would be armed robbery and a first degree felony. If the suspect possessed a weapon during the robbery by sudden snatching but did not use it, the crime becomes a second degree felony.

In Florida, burglary is a very serious crime that can result in a significant prison sentence. Ordinarily, burglarizing a person’s home or dwelling is considered more serious than burglarizing a vehicle or a business. Most people understand burglary to include a situation where a person breaks into another’s home with the intent to steal something or commit another crime inside. Is it also a burglary of a dwelling to steal something from another’s yard?

In Florida, burglary of a dwelling is not limited to the victim’s actual residential structure. It also includes the curtilage of the residence. What does curtilage mean? That term is not specifically defined in the Florida criminal statutes. However, prior criminal cases in Florida have indicated that the curtilage includes some form of enclosed area near the residence. Most likely, an enclosed shed or outhouse of some sort in the yard near the house would be included in the curtilage. However, the same structure on the property but far away from the house may not be within the curtilage of the home. The backyard of a residence would likely be within the curtilage of the home if it was enclosed by a fence. However, if a person walked onto another’s property and stole some items laying in the yard which was not fully enclosed by a fence, that would not be burglary of a dwelling.

Whether a crime involving property outside of one’s home is a burglary to a dwelling depends on the circumstances of the property and the theft. However, generally, if the suspect breaches any sort of enclosure on or near the residence with the intent to commit a theft or other crime, it is likely to be a burglary of a dwelling.

Jacksonville, Florida police arrested five people who they suspect were involved in the theft of cargo from twenty to twenty-five semi trucks in cities from Jacksonville to Tampa, according to an article on The five suspects were allegedly stealing the cargo and shipping the materials down to Miami. According to Jacksonville police, the shipments ranged in value from $23,000 worth of rice to $400,000 worth of TV’s.

The suspects in a case like this can be charged with a number of different crimes depending on the circumstances of the thefts. They are likely to face burglary and grand theft charges, at a minimum. Burglary of an unoccupied vehicle without any violence towards another person is a third degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Grand theft is more or less serious depending on the value of the items stolen. When the value of the property stolen is $300 or more, the crime becomes a felony. However, there is a special part of the theft crime statute dealing with theft of the cargo of a semi truck. Where a person steals cargo of significant value from a semi truck, as alleged in this case, it is likely to be a first degree felony punishable by up to thirty years in prison.

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