Articles Posted in Criminal Defense

The concept of “scrivener’s error” is certainly applicable to the legal system, although it’s not especially technical. In fact, it’s known by most as a “typo.” Courts systems require human labor to draft legislation, motions, and written judgments, so sometimes mistakes are made. In the criminal law context, the omission of a word or phrase can lead to unintended consequences. Fortunately, there’s a mechanism for addressing scrivener’s error in trial court decisions. In fact, the appellate court for the Second District addressed this issue in a recent Florida burglary case, Morgan v. State.Florida appeals court decisions in criminal cases show that scrivener’s error is not uncommon and can lead to significant changes to a judgment entered against a defendant. In 2004, the Second District Court of Appeals decided a case in which the trial court orally imposed concurrent sentences of 10 years’ imprisonment. The written judgment, however, reflected consecutive sentences for a total of 20 years’ imprisonment.  Moreover, in 2010, the First District Court of Appeals decided a case in which the defendant had been found guilty of a violation of his probation for “not possessing any firearm or weapon.” However, the defendant was only convicted of marijuana possession, and no gun was present. The appeals court ruled that this was a scrivener’s error and that the defendant’s probation violation could not have been attributed to a gun crime. The Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure also allow for the modification of a sentence in order to correct a scrivener’s error, but only if the correction would benefit a criminal defendant.

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Law enforcement has broad discretion to enforce the laws. Still, it’s sometimes surprising to see how far a case can proceed before a court overturns a conviction. In fact, the defendant in a recent Florida grand theft decision was arguably doing his job as a repo man when he was charged with grand theft auto and theft of property. It wasn’t until the appeals court heard his case, after a conviction, that he was cleared of the crimes.The defendant was formerly a bail bond agent, who had his license revoked. He started working with another agent to provide bond premium financing. One individual sought his services for a loan and provided the title to her vehicle as security. After she defaulted on the loan, the defendant re-possessed her vehicle. The defendant and his co-worker notified the police that the re-possession occurred as a result of delinquent loan payments. The car owner had several personal belongings in the car. She reported to the police that her car and its contents had been stolen. The defendant was arrested and charged with grand theft auto and theft of property. His defense attorney moved for judgment of acquittal on all of the charges because the defendant lacked the requisite intent for grand theft auto, and the theft charge would be a double jeopardy violation. The trial court denied the motion.

The crime of theft is a specific intent offense. Under Florida law, specific intent requires that the prosecution show that the defendant was aware that he or she was unlawfully taking another party’s property. In contrast, Florida courts have held that a person who takes possession of another party’s property with the good-faith belief that he or she has a right to the property lacks the specific intent to commit theft.

The court noted that the defendant re-possessed the vehicle in broad daylight and contacted police to report that he re-possessed the vehicle as a result of non-payment on the loan. The court rejected a statement made by the defendant that he would not return the vehicle even if its owner paid the amount past due. Reliance on that statement was improper because the analysis should fixate on the defendant’s intent at the time the dispossession occurred. The court could only identify one possible conclusion as to the defendant’s intent:  he took it as collateral for the unpaid loan. The court also ruled that the theft charge be dropped because it constituted a double jeopardy violation. As a result, the appeals court reversed the trial court’s decision with an order to vacate the convictions for grand theft auto and theft of property.

Crimes with a statute of limitations are required to be prosecuted within a defined period of time. This helps ensure that evidence for the prosecution is still available at trial and encourages law enforcement to actively seek to resolve crimes. A Florida appeals court recently determined that the limitations period had expired against a criminal defendant who was charged with lewd and lascivious conduct, a Florida sex crime.The defendant was the former boyfriend of the alleged victims’ mother. After the mother abandoned her children, they were placed in their grandmother’s care. The defendant continued to be a part of the children’s lives. The two children, along with their brother, went to the defendant’s apartment one day to clean it. At the time, the two children in question were 12 years old and 10 years old. The defendant allegedly engaged in sexual acts with both the 12-year-old and the 10-year-old while they were cleaning his home. On the 12-year-old’s next birthday, the defendant gave her an inappropriate, sexually suggestive birthday gift. When the girl’s grandmother found it, she prohibited the defendant from having any further contact with the children.

The applicable statute of limitations, at the time of the crime, for lewd and lascivious molestation of a child between the ages of 12 and 16 years (Florida Statutes Section 800.04(5)(c)) was three years from the date that the crime was committed. However, the limitations period for that offense does not begin to run until the victim has reached the age of 18 or the violation has been reported to law enforcement.

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