Juvenile’s Conviction Overturned on Appeal After Florida Court Rules that Prosecution Failed to Present Evidence on an Element of Assault

BurglaryAt trial, the prosecution is required to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, all of the elements of the crime charged against the defendant. A Fourth District Court of Appeals decision, J.S., a Child v. State of Florida, analyzed whether the prosecution had met its burden of proof in convicting a juvenile of a Florida assault crime.

In the early morning hours, the victim went outside to investigate a noise. He saw one of the trucks that was part of his auto-repair business being touched by the defendant. As the victim approached the truck, he saw a second person at another vehicle. The burglar approached, and the victim pulled out his concealed handgun, which scared off one of the burglars. He approached the defendant, who was lying on the ground and appeared to be moving his hand toward something. The victim removed what appeared to be a pellet gun from the defendant’s waist. He held the defendant on the ground at gun point until the police arrived.

The defendant was charged with burglary with assault or battery while armed. The trial court found the defendant delinquent on the charge. The juvenile defendant appealed and argued that the conviction of burglary of conveyance with assault while armed should be reversed.

Under Florida law, the crime of assault is comprised of three elements:  (1) an intentional, unlawful threat by word or act; (2) an apparent ability to carry out the threat; and (3) the creation of a well-founded fear that violence is imminent. § 784.011, Fla. Stat. (2014).

The issue in J.S. v. Florida was focused on the first element:  whether the defendant intended to threaten the victim. Relying on earlier Florida court decisions, the court found that the defendant was stopped by a person with some sort of power or authority over him. The defendant moved his hand in a way that would cause a well-founded fear in the person attempting to apprehend him. Finally, it was unclear until after the potential harm was under control exactly what the danger might have been. There was no evidence that the defendant intentionally threatened the victim. The State did not provide the court with any case law on the issue of the intent to threaten.

The court ruled that the State did not introduce any evidence that would support a finding that the defendant intentionally threatened the victim, as opposed to a finding that the victim had a well-founded fear. The court reversed the conviction and remanded the case to the trial court.

If you are being questioned about a gun crime or another offense, Tampa attorney Will Hanlon has represented those charged with crimes for over two decades. Call Hanlon Law at at 813-228-7095 or use our online form to set up your appointment as soon as possible.

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Photo Credit: LeoFra, [CC0 License], via Pixabay