Friday, December 14, 2012


Recently your Clearwater Criminal Defense Attorney was asked the following:
A girl who fails to appear for a grand theft hearing is still in trouble six years later despite the statute of limitations in Tampa Bay, Florida.
Van Gogh, Girl in White, 1890
My sister was arraigned on a Grand Theft charge in Florida six years ago. My family has reason to believe she may be innocent of the charge. After she attended the arraignment hearing things went from bad to worse in her life, she turned to a life on the streets and she failed to appear for any further court hearings on the Grand Theft. 
She finally contacted the family after all these years. That's when we checked the computer and found that there were warrants for her arrest for Grand Theft as well as a Failure to Appear charge. We talked her into turning herself in, but now as she's sitting in jail we're wondering what will happen to her. Could the Grand Theft charge be dismissed because it violates the statute of limitations, after all it's been over six years since the charge was filed against her? 
In criminal law the statute of limitations in Florida if five years for a Grand Theft filed as a third degree felony. That means that the state of Florida has five years to file a criminal action against someone who allegedly has committed a crime. The idea is that failure by the State to give timely notice of a crime diminishes one's ability to effectively mount a fair defense. But here the State of Florida timely filed the charge, then your sister absconded making things worse by failing to appear for the Grand Theft. So a warrant was issued for the underlying Grand Theft, then for the second felony, the Failure to Appear.

Typically, the State of Florida must show that it made a good faith effort to find a Defendant once an arrest warrant is issued. Failing to show an effort was made to find her could result in dismissal. However, if your sister was living on the streets without a permanent address or living at an address that was different from the one given as her dwelling during the course of the Grand Theft charge a Judge would likely find that law enforcement didn't find her because she didn't want to be found. 
Still it'd be interesting to see if she had any police contact while living on the streets. If officers made contact with her for an infraction such as jaywalking and failed to arrest her on the outstanding arrest warrant, a Judge could find that law enforcement failed to meet its good faith burden of attempting to find her
Ultimately even if your sister didn't commit the underlying Grand Theft she made a terrible mistake in not appearing for court hearings thus giving the State of Florida the sword of a new felony, the Failure to Appear.
It's especially heartening for a Clearwater Criminal Lawyer to hear that your family has reached out to help your sister during this holiday season. Yet as important as the resolution of her case is, letting her know that the family will be there to support her while she gets back on her feet will give her the strength to get thru this.