Fort Lauderdale Defense Lawyer: Stolen Car Conviction Requires Evidence Defendant Knew Property Stolen

If you are arrested on possession of any type of grand theft, the state needs to show at least some evidence you knew the property was stolen, or else evidence you are unable to “satisfactorily explain” why you are in possession of property recently stolen. F.S. 812.022 states there is an inference that one in possession of recently-stolen property knew or should have known that property was stolen “unless satisfactorily explained.” Part of the job of a Fort Lauderdale defense lawyer in a grand theft case will be to show that if you are in possession of recently-stolen property, you did have a satisfactory explanation for it.Fort Lauderdale defense lawyer

The inference is one that is rebuttable, and it’s important your Fort Lauderdale defense lawyer do so because grand theft, as outlined in F.S. 812.014, is a felony charge. Theft of a motor vehicle, assuming it wasn’t damaged, is a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. Numerous variables can result in heightened penalties for Florida auto theft, but it’s a serious offense for anyone – including a juvenile.

Fort Lauderdale Defense Lawyer Challenges Inference of Guilt in Possession of Stolen Property Conviction

This issue arose on appeal a few years ago in a juvenile criminal case a few years ago before Florida’s 3rd District Court of Appeal. In C.T. v. State of Florida, an adjudicatory hearing was held in late 2016 on the question of whether defendant juvenile knew or should have known the car hew was driving when he was pulled over by police was stolen.

At that hearing, prosecutors presented evidence from the victim that his vehicle was stolen one evening in late July. A few days later, while driving his girlfriend to work in a different vehicle, he spotted his stolen car, about six miles from where it had been taken. He followed the vehicle until police could catch up and stop the car. At no point did the driver, a teenager, attempt to speed away or flee. The condition of the vehicle hadn’t been physically damaged or altered in any way. At the hearing, the said he told police – and affirmed once again – he did not steal the car and did not know it was stolen. The keys had been given to him by a friend he’d known for three years, one he trusted and who used to sell cars, who had told him another friend had “given him the key.” His friend had “told us to try it out, so we tried it out.”

After evidence was presented, his defense lawyer sought dismissal of the charges, based on the “patently reasonable explanation for his possession of the car.”  Trial court denied dismissal motion, finding the explanation wasn’t reasonable, especially in light of testimony that hid friend had previously not had an automobile. Adjudication of delinquency was withheld, and juvenile was placed on probation. His defense lawyer appealed.

The Fla. 3rd DCA appellate panel agreed with him that the state had failed to present sufficient evidence defendant knew the car was stolen. The case was almost entirely circumstantial, and the auto theft charge he faced required proof that defendant “knowingly obtained or used the motor vehicle of another” unlawfully. To prove the crime, the state had to show defendant obtained or used the property with the intent to deprive the victim of the use of it or to appropriate the property for use by the accused.

The state solely relied on F.S. 812.022, arguing possession of this stolen property alone gave rise to the inference of guilt. Although the question of whether a defendant’s explanation for possession of stolen property is reasonable normally would go to a jury (or a judge in a non-jury trial), in cases where a reasonable explanation is totally unrefuted and there isn’t any other evidence of guilt, the court is required to grant a directed verdict for the defendant. The 3rd DCA panel ruled that is what should have happened here. Defendant’s conviction was reversed.

If you are accused of a felony in Florida, you will need to ensure you have a Fort Lauderdale defense lawyer willing to examine your legal options from every angle.

Call Fort Lauderdale Defense Lawyer Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

Additional Resources:

C.T. v. State of Florida, Nov. 29, 2017, Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal

More Blog Entries:

Appeal Waiver in Criminal Plea Bargain at Issue in Case Before SCOTUS, Nov. 15, 2018, Fort Lauderdale Defense Lawyer Blog

Justia Lawyer Rating for Richard Ansara