As a Jacksonville criminal lawyer, I have represented people charged with grand theft auto. I have represented juveniles for trespassing. In my experience as a Jacksonville juvenile lawyer and criminal defense attorney, I have not seen the state attorney charge a defendant with grand theft and then proceed to trial on the lesser-included offense of trespass to a conveyance, but it happens, as indicated by the case I am going to review in this article. I will also go through the Florida criminal laws that apply in this scenario. This is merely an analysis of the law. If you or your loved one has been arrested, you should speak with a Jacksonville criminal attorney about your case. Every case is different. Your lawyer will be better able to provide you with information after researching the case.
The grand theft auto law is Section 812.014 of the Florida Statutes. This law states, “It is grand theft of the third degree and a felony of the third degree…. if the property stolen is…. a motor vehicle.” The law defines theft as:
(1) A person commits theft if he or she knowingly obtains or uses, or endeavors to obtain or to use, the property of another with intent to, either temporarily or permanently:
(a) Deprive the other person of a right to the property or a benefit from the property.
(b) Appropriate the property to his or her own use or to the use of any person not entitled to the use of the property.
Florida Trespass to a Structure or Conveyance Law
The trespass law is Section 810.08 of the Florida Statutes. This law states:
(1) Whoever, without being authorized, licensed, or invited, willfully enters or remains in any structure or conveyance, or, having been authorized, licensed, or invited, is warned by the owner or lessee of the premises, or by a person authorized by the owner or lessee, to depart and refuses to do so, commits the offense of trespass in a structure or conveyance.
(2)(a) Except as otherwise provided in this subsection, trespass in a structure or conveyance is a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.
Florida Juvenile Criminal Case for Trespass to Motor Vehicle
In 2014, the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeals was faced with the question as to whether the state attorney presented sufficient evidence to adjudicate a juvenile delinquent of trespass to a conveyance. The juvenile was accused of trespassing in a motor vehicle. A motor vehicle is considered a conveyance under Florida law. Can a person trespass in a motor vehicle? Absolutely, but the state has the burden of proving the elements necessary to sustain a trespass conviction. Here are the facts of the case:
“A.H. was charged with grand theft auto and resisting arrest without violence after A.H., who was riding as a passenger in a stolen vehicle, allegedly fled when police pulled over the vehicle. The matter proceeded to a bench trial where the state announced that it would proceed on the lesser included count of trespass of a conveyance rather than grand theft. The state presented the following evidence at trial. A.H.’s co-defendant, also a passenger in the vehicle, testified that the driver of the vehicle told him that the vehicle was a rental. He also testified that he did not notice any signs of theft-type damage to the vehicle (e.g., damage to the vehicle’s ignition column or locks/windows), which was corroborated by photos of the vehicle at the time it was recovered. The officer who arrested A.H.’s co-defendant testified that on the date of the incident, he encountered the vehicle, ran its tag, and confirmed that it was reported stolen. As he and his partner approached the vehicle, its occupants jumped out and began to run. He observed A.H. fleeing after his partner commanded A.H. to stop…. A.H. testified in his own defense. He maintained that he did not flee and complied with the officer’s commands. A.H. also maintained that he did not know the car was stolen as the driver told him it was his girlfriend’s car.” A.H. v. State, 151 So. 3d 48, 49-50 (Fla. 4th DCA 2014)
The Florida juvenile judge that was presiding over the case found that the defendant did commit the crime of trespass, holding that “the facts of the case were as such that … he should have known the car was stolen.” This case went before the appellate court, and it was reversed. The Florida appellate court found that the trespass charge should have been dismissed. The appeals court set forth the law that applied in this juvenile case:
“To support A.H.’s conviction for trespass of a conveyance, the state had to prove that A.H. ‘willfully entered or remained in a conveyance without being authorized, licensed or invited by the owner or a person authorized to give permission.’ R.M. v. State, 763 So.2d 1060, 1061 (Fla. 4th DCA 1999); see also § 810.08, Fla. Stat. (2012). In the context of an alleged trespasser riding as a passenger in a stolen vehicle, the ‘willful’ element requires the state to establish that the passenger knew or should have known that the vehicle was stolen. R.M., 763 So.2d at 1062; E.A.B., 851 So.2d at 310. Evidence that a passenger in a stolen vehicle fled upon interaction with law enforcement, standing alone, is not enough to meet this burden. R.M., 763 So.2d at 1062; E.A.B., 851 So.2d at 310…. Here, there simply was no evidence tending to establish that A.H. knew or should have known the subject vehicle was stolen other than the fact that he fled when approached by law enforcement. There was no physical damage to the car indicating that it was stolen. See P.W. v. State, 730 So.2d 422, 423 (Fla. 5th DCA 1999)…. Additionally, A.H. testified that he did not know the car was stolen, and so did his co-defendant. In sum, the only evidence tending to establish that A.H. knew the car was stolen was the officer’s testimony that A.H. fled after being commanded to stop. While evidence of A.H.’s flight was admissible and relevant to establish guilt, this evidence alone was insufficient to establish the required element of the charge—that A.H. knew the vehicle was stolen. E.A.B., 851 So.2d at 310.” A.H., 151 So. 3d at 50-51.