One of the most important things that anyone charged with a Florida theft crime should know is that the burden is at all times on prosecutors to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the crime. That means they have to prove more than just a hunch, and they have to do more than show that you probably committed the crime. As the state’s Second District Court of Appeals recently explained, that means in auto theft cases that prosecutors have to show that the car in which the person charged was caught is the car that was stolen.One afternoon in May 2016, a man drove a silver Dodge Dart to his aunt’s house in Tampa. He came to retrieve some paperwork from his cousin. He left keys in the car – a rental – along with his cell phone, his wallet, and a bag of clothes. He also left the car windows down. The car was gone when he returned a few minutes later. He contacted police but wasn’t able to remember the vehicle’s license plate number.
The following night, a Tampa police officer observed a silver Dodge Dart roll through a stop sign, make a quick lane change, and make several quick turns before running another couple of stop signs. The three people inside the car – two men and one woman – jumped out and started running away when the officer approached. The officer eventually apprehended the woman, identified in court documents as “VG.” She was arrested and charged with grand theft auto and burglary, among other charges.
VG appealed the conviction, arguing that prosecutors never proved that the car from which she fled was the same vehicle that was stolen from the man. She said she didn’t know who owned the car and simply fled because the man behind the wheel said “we gotta jump out.” VG’s lawyer also pointed out that the prosecutors did not match the car’s license plate or Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) with the rental car. The Second District agreed.