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Morlas v. State

Florida Court of Appeals, Fourth District

February 8, 2017

JORGE MORLAS, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF FLORIDA, Appellee.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit, Broward County; Paul L. Backman, Judge; L.T. Case No. 09-821 CF10B.

          Carey Haughwout, Public Defender, and Ian Seldin, Assistant Public Defender, West Palm Beach, for appellant.

          Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Luke R. Napodano, Assistant Attorney General, West Palm Beach, for appellee.

          Forst, J.

         Appellant Jorge Morlas was convicted of burglary of a dwelling, resisting arrest without violence, and disturbing a school function. Appellant raises two issues on appeal. First, he maintains that the State failed to establish a critical element of the burglary charge, arguing that neither he nor his accomplices ever "[e]nter[ed] a dwelling, a structure, or a conveyance with the intent to commit an offense therein . . . ." § 810.02(1)(b), Fla. Stat. (2008). Second, Appellant argues that the trial court erred by not suppressing evidence of a "high-speed" car chase. Finding no error in the trial court's rulings, we affirm.

         Background

         Appellant, along with two other men, made plans to burglarize a home at random. After casing a particular location and determining that no one was home, they returned to perform the crime. Appellant and one of his accomplices walked from the car to a cemented area in front of the home, characterized by the State as an "attached porch." The evidence at trial revealed markings consistent with the men attempting to enter the home, but no actual entry into any location other than the outdoor area was achieved. The owner of the home (who had returned to her dwelling after Appellant's initial visit) observed this activity through her window and called 911. Appellant and his colleague returned to the car and the three men drove away. Soon thereafter, they encountered a police vehicle, precipitating a "high-speed chase." The driver of the car testified that this chase was initiated based on the "common consensus" in the vehicle that they should run, but he did not testify to anything specific Appellant said or did as part of that consensus. The chase ended when the getaway car collided with another vehicle. The men exited the car and ran in different directions. Appellant was chased on foot through Broward Community College and through a classroom in session, before being apprehended in a stairwell.

         The State charged Appellant with burglary of a dwelling, resisting arrest without violence, and disturbing a school function. Before trial, Appellant moved in limine to suppress evidence of the high speed chase as irrelevant to any of the charges against him (the driver of the car, who was charged with the chase itself, was not tried contemporaneously with Appellant). The trial court denied that motion and this evidence was admitted. After the close of the State's evidence, Appellant moved for a judgment of acquittal on the burglary count, arguing that the State had not shown that the area in question was burglarizable under the statute. That motion was denied. The jury found Appellant guilty of burglary of a dwelling, resisting arrest without violence, and disturbing a school function. He was sentenced to fifteen years in prison for the burglary charge and time served on the remaining charges.

         Analysis

         A. Burglary of a Dwelling: The Area Entered Was a "Front Porch"

         "In reviewing a motion for judgment of acquittal, a de novo standard of review applies." Fonseca v. State, 956 So.2d 1259, 1261 (Fla. 4th DCA 2007) (quoting Pagan v. State, 830 So.2d 792, 803 (Fla. 2002)). "Further, where the question involves interpretation of a statute, it is subject to de novo review." Brown v. City of Vero Beach, 64 So.3d 172, 174 (Fla. 4th DCA 2011) (emphasis omitted).

         One commits burglary in Florida by "[e]ntering a dwelling, a structure, or a conveyance with the intent to commit an offense therein."[1] § 810.02(1)(b), Fla. Stat. A "dwelling" is defined as "a building or conveyance of any kind, including any attached porch, whether such building or conveyance is temporary or permanent, mobile or immobile, which has a roof over it and is designed to be occupied by people lodging therein at night, together with the curtilage thereof." § 810.011(2), Fla. Stat.

         Appellant argues that the location in which he and his accomplice were viewed by the homeowner was not part of a "dwelling" or "structure" and therefore that his motion for judgment of acquittal on the burglary charge should have been granted. Appellant recognizes that the victim identified the area as her "front patio, " but argues that the area was unenclosed and without posts forming a boundary, despite being under an overhanging eave. Appellant relies on Colbert v. State, 78 So.3d 111 (Fla. 1st DCA 2012), for the proposition that this area was not an "attached porch, " and on the lack of "some form of enclosure" for the proposition that it was not part of the curtilage of the home. The State responds that the area was "visually set off" from the rest of the property by small bushes and a large tree, and deems it an "attached ...


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