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Court Discusses Elements of Petit Theft

This case is about an appeal filed by a juvenile from an adjudication of delinquency for robbery and a subsequent commitment to the Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services.

A New York Criminal Lawyer said the central question presented for review is whether the state established a prima facie case that the respondent juvenile employed force, violence, assault or putting in fear–an essential element of robbery–in effecting a theft of jewelry from a three-year-old child.

The respondent was charged in a petition for delinquency before the Circuit Court for the Eleventh Judicial Circuit with the offense of robbery.

At the trial, the complainant did not testify because she was only three years old and was not a competent witness. Instead, the state called two witnesses: the child’s mother, the investigating detective in this case.

The child’s mother testified that on November 6, 1984, she was outside her apartment building in Miami watching her child, playing about twenty feet away with the respondent, a sixteen-year-old boy. A New York Criminal Lawyer said during the diversionary game, respondent (1) gently unclasped and removed a necklace which complainant had around her neck, and (2) removed a bracelet from complainant’s wrist by using a sudden pulling motion to break the thread that held the bracelet together. The child was never hit, pushed, or physically harmed during this encounter. As soon as the bracelet was removed, the complainant started to cry, ran to her mother, and touched her wrist indicating that she no longer had her bracelet.

Respondent then fled, but was arrested several days later after the police were notified of the incident. The investigating detective testified at trial as to the arrest as well as to the identification of respondent. The necklace and bracelet were never recovered, and no value was ever assigned to this jewelry at trial.

Based on the aforesaid evidence, the respondent moved for a judgment of acquittal as to the robbery charge on the ground that the state had failed to establish an essential element of robbery, namely, that the taking of the necklace and bracelet was by force, violence, assault, or putting in fear. The trial court denied the motion.

The court held that the state established only that the respondent committed a petit larceny from the person of the young child in this case when respondent removed the necklace and bracelet from the child’s person–but that no prima facie showing was established below that this taking was accomplished by “force [or] violence” or by “assault or putting in fear,” an essential element of robbery under Section 812.13(1), Florida Statutes (1983).

During the incident, the child was not verbally threatened, pushed, or physically harmed in any way. Given this evidence, no robbery was established.

A New York Drug Possession Lawyer said the court observed also that only a slight degree of force was employed in this pulling motion, enough only to snap a thread which held the bracelet together. There was no struggle over the bracelet, and the child was in no way injured; moreover, the snatching occurred during a diversionary child’s game in which the child was not even aware of the taking until after it was accomplished. Under well-settled principles of Florida law, as stated above, this sudden snatching of the bracelet cannot constitute a taking by “force” within the meaning of our robbery statute.

As for the taking of the necklace, it is equally plain that only a slight degree of force was used to effect this theft–enough to unclasp the necklace from behind the child’s neck–while the diversionary game was going on. This surreptitious theft was akin to a pickpocket, and, under well-settled principles of Florida law, cannot constitute a taking by “force” within the meaning of our robbery statute.

In sum, the state failed to establish an essential element of robbery under Section 812.13(1), Florida Statutes (1983)–namely, that the taking of the jewelry herein was by “force, violence, assault or putting in fear”. A New York Sex Crimes Lawyer said the court reversed the delinquency adjudication for robbery under review. The state’s evidence, however, established a prima facie case of petit theft under Section 812.014(1), (2)(c), Florida Statutes (1983)–and, accordingly, the court reduced the delinquency adjudication herein to petit theft and affirm the commitment order under review as a proper sanction for this reduced offense.

Accordingly, the criminal robbery adjudication under review was reversed, and reduced to petit theft, and the commitment order under review was affirmed being a proper sanction for petit larceny.

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