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C.T. v. State

Florida Court of Appeals, Third District

November 29, 2017

C.T., a juvenile, Appellant,
v.
The State of Florida, Appellee.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

         An Appeal from the Circuit Court for Miami-Dade County, Maria De Jesus Santovenia, Judge. Lower Tribunal No. 16-1999-B

          Carlos J. Martinez, Public Defender, and Jeffrey Paul DeSousa, Assistant Public Defender, for appellant.

          Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, and Kayla H. McNab, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

          Before SUAREZ, LAGOA, and SCALES, JJ.

          LAGOA, J.

          C.T., a juvenile, appeals from the trial court's order withholding adjudication of delinquency and placing him on probation for grand theft of a motor vehicle. Because the State failed to present sufficient evidence that C.T. knew the car he was driving was stolen, we reverse.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On August 18, 2016, the State filed a petition for delinquency charging C.T. with grand theft of a motor vehicle in violation of section 812.014(2)(c)6, Florida Statutes (2016), for an incident that occurred on July 30, 2016. An adjudicatory hearing was held on October 26, 2016.

         At the adjudicatory hearing, the only issue before the trial court was whether C.T. knew that the car he was driving was stolen when stopped by the police. Because the case against C.T. was entirely circumstantial, the State relied upon the statutory inference of guilty knowledge provided by section 812.022(2), Florida Statutes (2016), which states that "proof of possession of property recently stolen, unless satisfactorily explained, gives rise to an inference that the person in possession of the property knew or should have known that the property had been stolen."

         At the adjudicatory hearing, the State presented testimony from the victim, Hector Alvarez. Alvarez testified that his vehicle was stolen on the evening of July 27, 2016. At 5 a.m. on July 30, while driving his girlfriend to work, Alvarez saw his car approximately four to six miles from where it was stolen. Alvarez followed the car and called the police. The police subsequently stopped the car. Alvarez testified that when the police officers approached the car, the driver did not alter his speed or attempt to flee. One of the officers at the traffic stop, Officer Hernandez, testified that C.T. was the driver of the car. Defense counsel conceded that the car stopped by the police was Alvarez's car and that it was stolen on the night of July 27. Alvarez testified that when he retrieved his car, it had not been physically altered or damaged in any way.

         Following the State's case, the defense moved for judgment of dismissal, which the trial court denied.

         C.T. also testified at the hearing. C.T. denied stealing Alvarez's car or knowing that it was stolen. C.T. testified that on the night at issue he got the key to the car from his friend, Deandre, while at Deandre's house. Deandre had, in turn, been given the key from his friend, a person named Jacob. Jacob used to sell cars, "[s]o he told us to try it out, so we tried it out." On cross examination, C.T. testified that he had known Deandre for about three years, and that Deandre did not have a car before that night. C.T. admitted that he did not know if Jacob actually gave Deandre permission to drive the car, but that he trusted Deandre when he gave him the keys to the car and said, "I just go with what he told me." Deandre suggested that the two take the car to meet up with some girls and Deandre asked C.T. to drive because he was the better driver. Deandre was in the car with C.T. when the police stopped the car.

         At the conclusion of the adjudicatory hearing, defense counsel argued that C.T. was entitled to a judgment of dismissal because C.T. gave a patently reasonable explanation for his possession of the car-he got it from his friend, Deandre, who told him a friend of his who use to sell cars wanted them to "try it out." Moreover, nothing about the car's physical condition indicated to C.T. that it had been stolen. The State argued that C.T.'s explanation was unreasonable given his testimony that Deandre never ...


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