When people suffer personal tragedies, their friends and families will often set up fundraisers to help them deal with the financial ramifications of their losses. What starts as a kind-hearted gesture may lead to criminal charges, though, if the funds collected are not properly disbursed. While numerous charges could potentially arise out of the mishandling of charitable donations, a person cannot be convicted multiple times for the same offense. This was demonstrated in a recent Florida ruling in which the court agreed with the defendant’s assertion that her convictions for fraud and organized scheme to defraud violated her right against double jeopardy. If you are charged with a fraud offense, it is in your best interest to meet with a skillful Sarasota criminal defense attorney to assess your potential defenses.
The Facts of the Case
Allegedly, the defendant and her husband were struggling financially. Her husband was a firefighter, and after two other firefighters were killed and a third firefighter’s daughter died, the defendant organized a benefit to raise money for the three families. It is estimated that between tickets sold at the door and prior to the benefit, the defendant gathered in excess of $28,000 dollars.
Reportedly, cash donations were made during the benefit as well. The bulk of the money was never given to the families, however. Eventually, the police investigated the incident and charged the defendant with multiple crimes, including grand theft and an organized scheme to defraud. A jury convicted her, after which she appealed.
Double Jeopardy Violations
On appeal, the defendant argued that her convictions for organized schemes to defraud and grand theft violated her protections against double jeopardy as they arose out of the same conduct. The court agreed with her and vacated her conviction for grand theft. The court explained that grand theft is a lesser included offense of the crime of organized scheme to defraud. In order to convict the defendant of both crimes, then the State was required to prove that each charge arose out of different conduct.
Notably, however, a court conducting a double-jeopardy analysis will look solely at the charging document, and its conclusion cannot be based on evidence produced at trial. If a court is unable to determine from charging documents whether a jury could have convicted the defendant of multiple crimes based on the same conduct, the convictions violate double jeopardy.
In the subject case, the information charged the defendant with grand theft and organized scheme to defraud families beginning February 17, 2017, and continuing through September 17, 2017. The dates and victims for each crime were identical. Further, theft was a necessarily included offense of organized scheme to defraud. Thus, the court reversed the conviction for grand theft.
Confer with an Experienced Florida Criminal Defense Attorney
Fraud crimes often come with significant penalties like lengthy jail sentences and substantial fines. If you are charged with a fraud or theft offense, it is advisable to confer with an attorney who can advise you of your rights. William Hanlon of Hanlon Law is an experienced Sarasota fraud defense lawyer with the knowledge and skills needed to help you seek a just outcome, and if you hire him, he will work tirelessly on your behalf. You can contact Mr. Hanlon through the online form or at 941-462-1789 to set up a conference.