Conviction for Schemes to Defraud Reversed in Florida Sheriff Overtime Case

In a case south of Jacksonville, Florida, a sheriff’s office deputy allegedly manipulated the sheriff’s overtime assignment computer program to give her more overtime hours as a security officer at a local hospital than the sheriff’s policy would normally allow. The defendant worked those overtime hours, and she was paid extra for those overtime hours. As a result, the defendant was able to work more and get paid more at the expense of other sheriff’s employees who were assigned fewer overtime hours than normal.

This was clearly a violation of the sheriff’s overtime policies and resulted in more money for the defendant at the expense of her co-workers, but was it a crime? In this case, sheriff’s deputies would sign up each week through a computer system to request overtime hours at the hospital where people who have been arrested and jail inmates sometimes go for treatment and need to be guarded. A sheriff’s deputy is only allowed to sign up for a hospital overtime shift once every three days. The defendant was able to manipulate the computer system to work many more overtime hours than other sheriff’s deputies. The defendant was arrested and convicted on fraud charges on the theory that the defendant’s fraud deprived other sheriff’s deputies of overtime hours and pay.

The criminal defense lawyer appealed the conviction and argued that the defendant could not be convicted of fraud because the criminal statute requires that the victim is deprived of property. Property is normally defined as something that can be transferred and is exclusive. The appellate court held that the missed opportunity to work overtime hours does not fit the definition of property. As a result, the defendant did not deprive anyone of property, as that term is defined in the Florida criminal statutes, so she could not legally be convicted of schemes to defraud for essentially stealing overtime hours.

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