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.
Secondly, the defendant’s possession of the recently stolen items must be exclusive. In other words, if the defendant is not the only one in possession of the stolen items, the jury instruction does not apply. If the police search the defendant’s house and find the stolen items in a room with other people present, that would not be exclusive possession by the defendant. The state would be able to present evidence that the stolen items were found in the defendant’s house, but the state would not be entitled to a jury instruction telling the jury they could infer the defendant was guilty of the burglary.
When the jury instruction does apply, it is only an inference. With the instruction, the jury does not have to find the defendant guilty; they are merely told they can infer that he/she is guilty based on the evidence of recent possession of the stolen items. Additionally, the defendant can refute this inference by presenting evidence that gives a legitimate reason for being in possession of the stolen property.