Florida Court Discusses Crimes Committed Through Alternative Acts

There are numerous statutes and rulings that prevent criminal defendants from unjust convictions. For example, in many cases, a unanimous jury verdict is necessary to convict a person of a crime. When a single offense can be committed through alternative acts, though, unanimity is not necessary, as explained in a recent Florida ruling issued in a petit theft case. If you are accused of theft, it is in your best interest to meet with a Sarasota theft crime defense attorney about your rights.

Case Background

Allegedly, in July 2021, the victim contacted the police to report a break-in at her apartment by the defendant. The two had a prior romantic relationship. The defendant was subsequently arrested and charged with six crimes, including petit theft. The petit theft charge pertained to the defendant allegedly obtaining or using the victim’s purse and/or wallet, intending to deprive her of the property.

Reportedly, during the trial, the victim testified that the defendant forcibly entered her apartment, demanding his phone and wallet. Despite her denial and attempts to show she didn’t possess his belongings, the defendant took her purse, containing the phone, wallet, and medication. The trial court instructed the jury to determine whether the defendant knowingly obtained the victim’s purse or wallet, and the jury found him guilty of petit theft, valuing the stolen property at less than $750. The defendant appealed.

Convictions for Crimes Committed Through Alternative Acts

On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court should have required the jury to unanimously decide whether he stole the purse, the wallet, or both. The court applied a fundamental error standard since this argument was raised for the first time on appeal. The core issue was whether unanimity was necessary when a single offense could be committed through alternative acts. The court referred to Florida’s requirement of jury unanimity for a verdict and cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s stance on cases involving alternative acts, asserting that jurors need not agree on a single means of commission.

The court differentiated the subject case from those involving separate offenses, emphasizing that unanimity is required in such instances. In the subject case, as the alleged theft of the purse and/or wallet occurred as part of a single continuous act against the same victim, the court concluded that no fundamental error had occurred. As such, the court affirmed the judgment and sentence, stating that the jury was not obligated to unanimously agree on the alternative means of committing the single offense of petit theft.

Meet with a Capable Sarasota Criminal Defense Attorney

The prosecution faces a significant burden of proof in theft crime cases and, in many instances, must convince all jurors of a defendant’s guilt in order to obtain a conviction. If you are charged with a theft offense, it is smart to meet with an attorney to assess your potential defenses. The capable Sarasota theft crime defense lawyers of Hanlon Law can assess the facts of your case and aid you in pursuing the best outcome available. You can contact Hanlon Law by calling 941-462-1789 or using the form online to arrange a conference.

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