Even in Juvenile Cases, the State Must Prove Guilt “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt”
Juvenile crimes may not carry the same penalties as adult criminal charges. But they can still leave your teenage son or daughter with a record that can follow them into their adult years. That is why it is critical to ensure no child is adjudicated delinquent unless the state can meet its burden of proof.
Appeals Court Overturns Delinquency Finding Due to Insufficient Evidence Connecting Juvenile to Thefts
For example, the Florida Second District Court of Appeal recently overturned a delinquency finding against a minor charged with petit theft. The case involved a series of vehicle thefts in Brandon, Florida. Video surveillance taken by one of the victims showed “a person wearing a hoodie attempting to open a vehicle passenger’s door and then walking away.” Video footage taken by a second person showed “two individuals” walking around and “entering unlocked vehicles.” But the footage did not clearly indicate who any of the individuals were, and the witnesses who took the video never identified any of the persons.
Nevertheless, prosecutors maintained the respondent, a juvenile, was at least one of the people involved in the thefts. Police officers conducted a search of the respondent’s bedroom, which he shared with his brother, and recovered “several items” that were “similar to the items that had been reported stolen.” Under Florida law, the prosecutors argued, “proof of possession of property recently stolen, unless satisfactorily explained, gives rise to an inference that the person in possession of the property knew or should have known that the property had been stolen.”
The judge agreed with the prosecution and adjudicated the respondent delinquent. The Second District reversed that decision, however, finding the statutory inference described above did not apply to the facts of this case. The “proof of possession” inference requires proof the respondent had “exclusive possession” of the stolen property. While exclusive possession can mean the “joint possession of two or more persons acting in concert,” the prosecution in this case did not prove as much. To the contrary, the appeals court noted that the stolen items were found in a shared bedroom and “there was no other evidence linking [the respondent] to the thefts” aside from the fact he happened to “live on the same street where the offenses took place.”
It was therefore improper for the trial court to infer the respondent had exclusive possession of the stolen property. And without that inference, there was no proof “beyond a reasonable doubt” the respondent committed petit theft or criminal mischief. The Second District therefore reversed the trial court’s decision and remanded with instructions to dismiss the case.
Contact a Florida Juvenile Crimes Attorney Today
Especially when juveniles are involved, the criminal justice system has a legal and ethical obligation not to judge an individual delinquent without adequate proof. If your child is facing a hearing and you do not know what to do, contact a qualified Miami juvenile crimes attorney as soon as possible. Call the Law Office of Julia Kefalinos today at 305.676.9545 to schedule a consultation today.
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