Florida Court Holds that Evidence a Defendant Hid from Police in a Stolen Car is Insufficient to Prove the Defendant Knew the Car Was Stolen

To convict a defendant of a crime, the state is required to prove each element of the crime. Many crimes require the state to prove the defendant’s state of mind at the time the crime was allegedly committed. For example, to convict a defendant of trespass in an unoccupied conveyance, also known as a car, the state must prove that the trespass was willful, meaning the defendant either knew or should have known the car was stolen.  If the state does not produce sufficient evidence the trespass was willful, a conviction for trespass in an unoccupied conveyance will not stand.

In T.A.K. v. Floridaa recent case arising out of a Florida Court of Appeals, the court held that hiding from the police in a stolen car is insufficient evidence to prove the defendant knew the car was stolen. If you are a juvenile facing criminal charges in St. Petersburg, it is essential that your attorney understands the state’s burden in proving its case against you to help you prepare a strong defense.

Factual Scenario

Allegedly, the owner of a car reported her car was missing and denied giving anyone else permission to take her car. The police tracked down the car to a nearby apartment building. When the officers first saw the car, they observed a man reclining in the driver’s seat. They did not notice any movement in the car or see anyone leave the car. When the officers approached the car, they opened the passenger door and saw only a man in the passenger seat. The police officers then opened the driver’s side door and noticed the defendant on the floor in the back of the vehicle, in between the front and back seats. The defendant was subsequently charged with trespass in an unoccupied conveyance. At the close of the state’s case, the defendant moved for the dismissal of the charges against him, on the grounds the state failed to show he knew or should have known the car was stolen. The court denied the defendant’s motion and he was convicted of the charges and placed on juvenile probation. The defendant subsequently appealed.

Elements of the Offense of Trespass

On appeal, the court held the trial court erred in denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss the charges against him. The court explained that to prove trespass of a conveyance, such as a stolen car, the state is required to prove that the trespass is willful. To show a trespass is willful, the police must prove that the person in the car at the time it is recovered by the police knew or should have known the car was stolen. The court further explained that evidence that a person in a stolen car fled from the police is insufficient in and of itself to prove knowledge the car is stolen. The court found no real distinction between fleeing from the police and hiding in the back of a car, and therefore, found that the fact that the defendant was hiding was insufficient to prove the defendant knew or should have known the car was stolen.

Meet with an Experienced St. Petersburg Defense Attorney

If you are a juvenile accused of a crime in St. Petersburg, you should consult a criminal defense attorney experienced in representing juvenile suspects to assist you in formulating a defense. Attorney William Hanlon of Hanlon Law is adept at defending St. Petersburg residents charged with crimes and will work diligently to help you obtain a successful result. Contact our offices at 727-897-5413 or via the online form to set up a meeting.

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Grand Theft Auto Conviction Overturned for Florida Bail Bondsman October 9, 2017, St. Petersburg Sex Crimes Blog