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Horvath v. State

Florida Court of Appeals, Fourth District

May 3, 2017

GEZA HORVATH, 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; Edward H. Merrigan Jr., Judge; L.T. Case No. 15-9742 CF10A.

          Carey Haughwout, Public Defender, and Richard B. Greene, 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.

          Levine, J.

         In this appeal, the trial court gave a jury instruction that possession of recently stolen property, unless satisfactorily explained, gives rise to an inference appellant knew or should have known the property was stolen. We find the trial court gave this instruction in error, and thus, we reverse the two convictions for dealing in stolen property. We affirm the two convictions for false verification of ownership to a pawn broker without further comment.

         At trial, the testimony established that appellant was a friend of the victim. Sometime between June 6 and June 9, the victim loaned appellant a ladder, a chainsaw, and a pressure washer for appellant to remedy a homeowner association violation. The victim even helped appellant use the equipment until it was too dark to continue. The victim told appellant that he could continue to use the equipment until the project was completed. The victim did not specify how long appellant could keep the equipment, but the trial testimony confirmed that the city gave appellant two weeks to complete the project.

         The victim was out of town from June 15 to June 30. When the victim returned, he tried to contact appellant without success. The victim went to appellant's home, and was able to retrieve only the ladder at appellant's residence. The victim, who never heard from appellant, finally reported the chainsaw and pressure washer stolen to the police.

         The chainsaw and pressure washer were eventually located at a pawn shop, with the transaction forms showing appellant had pawned the chainsaw on June 10 and the pressure washer on June 16. Appellant signed forms affirming that he was the owner of the two items he pawned. The victim testified that the recovered equipment was in the same condition as when he lent them to appellant.

         Appellant, at trial, claimed that he was unable to use the pressure washer because there was a hole burned in the water hose and that he accidentally dropped the chainsaw while cutting tree limbs. Appellant claimed that he pawned the items in order to get money to buy the victim replacement equipment.

         Appellant objected to instructing the jury on the inference that his possession of the chainsaw and pressure washer meant that he knew or should have known the property was recently stolen. Appellant argued that the property was not, in fact, stolen since the victim voluntarily lent the equipment to him to use. The trial court overruled the objection, and stated:

I understand again what your argument is, he had possession [sic] to have those tools and specifically the chainsaw and the pressure washer at his home. He certainly didn't have -- I guess my position would be that once he left his property with those items, to go to a pawn shop, at that point he no longer has permission to temporarily have them. He has basically converted them to his own use and they become stolen property.

         The trial court instructed the jury that to prove the crime of dealing in stolen property, the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that appellant trafficked in or endeavored to traffic in a chainsaw and a pressure washer and that appellant knew or should have known that the items were stolen. The court further instructed the jury, over appellant's objection:

Proof of possession of recently stolen property, unless satisfactorily explained, gives rise to an inference that the person in possession of the property knew or should have ...

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