A woman from Lehigh Acres, Florida was arrested for allegedly teaching children how to shoplift, which is the term commonly used to describe a theft of store merchandise. Lehigh Acres is about 5 1/2 hours southeast of Jacksonville, Florida. The woman was charged with the crimes of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, child cruelty and petit theft, according to an article on News4Jax.com.
This story raises a question as to what a person’s exposure to criminal liability is based on his/her involvement in a crime. In other words, if a person encourages another to commit a crime, such as theft, but does not actually steal the items, is that person guilty of a crime in Florida? A person can be found guilty of attempting to commit the crime, i.e. attempted petit or grand theft, if he/she does some act to try and commit the crime but does not succeed. Therefore, a person does not have to successfully complete the crime to be found guilty of a crime. Additionally, considering the story referenced above, if a person encourages or induces a child under the age of 12 to commit a crime, that person is also guilty of the crime of criminal attempt.
Next, a person who commands, requests or encourages another to perform some specific act that constitutes a crime or an attempted crime in Florida is guilty of the crime of solicitation. Therefore, a person can be guilty of a crime in Florida merely by words of encouragement for another even if that person had no other involvement in the commission of the crime.
However, the evidence on which the state often relies to charge these crimes is typically open to interpretation. A statement made by a suspect that may be alleged as a solicitation or an act that may be alleged as a criminal attempt can often have a perfectly legitimate, noncriminal purpose rendering solicitation or criminal attempt charges improper.