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What Counts as “Recently Stolen” Property in Florida?

How long ago is “recently?” A year? Six months? One month? The defendant in the 2013 case of D.S. v. State raised exactly this question in a motion to dismiss the charges against him. There is a Florida statute, Fla. Stat. § 812.014(1)(a), that provides that, in a case in which a person is charged with receiving stolen property, the person’s mere possession of the property counts as evidence that he or she actually stole it if—and only if—the state can show that the item in question was “recently stolen.”

In D.S. v. State, the defendant—a juvenile offender (hence the reference by initials, rather than full name)—was charged with possessing an illegal firearm that was obtained during a break-in at a police officer’s home. The officer encountered the juvenile six months later at a music festival, where he was—for whatever reason—waving the gun in the air. The officer apprehended the juvenile, and identified the gun as the one that been stolen from him. At the trial, the prosecutor cited the Florida statute creating the presumption that the juvenile’s possession of the “recently stolen” handgun should allow the jury to infer that he in fact stole it. No other evidence that it was, in actuality, D.S. who stole the gun was presented. D.S.’s lawyer (wisely) brought a motion to dismiss, arguing that six months shouldn’t count as “recently” and therefore no adverse inferences could be drawn against his client. This sort of smart motion practice, which preserves important legal questions on the record in the event that an appeal later becomes necessary, is exactly what typifies the practice of a skilled criminal defense attorney.

The Appeal

In the actual case, the trial judge ruled against D.S., finding that six months was not so long ago that it wasn’t “recent.” However, his attorney appealed the issue to Florida Court of Appeals. After weighing its own prior decisions—and giving some consideration to how other states had addressed the issue—the Court of Appeals concluded that no hard-and-fast meaning could be affixed to the word “recently.” Rather, the Court said, the appropriate measuring stick should vary with the type of property stolen. If the item is one that is easy to transfer or sell—like a handgun—the time period is relatively short, the Court concluded. But if the item is one that’s harder to move—like, say, an automobile—the time period is relatively long. Thus, in this specific case, six months was too long to consider the item still to have been “recently stolen.” And because the state had presented no other evidence that D.S. stole the gun, it couldn’t rely on the presumption, and therefore hadn’t proved that he was guilty of stealing the gun (even though his possession of it at all, as a minor, was still illegal).

This case is a great example of sharp trial practice—D.S.’s lawyer put all the relevant factual issues in the record for the Court’s consideration. Fort Lauderdale firearms defense attorney Kevin J. Kulik can bring the same level of expertise to your case. Contact him today for an initial consultation and to begin crafting an aggressive defense together.

 

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