Tuesday, November 13, 2012


Florida's criminal law of Trespass and Larceny with Relation to Utility Fixtures; Theft of Utility Services has received quite a bit of national attention due to a November 11, 2012 arrest under this charge by a Sarasota police officer.  The alleged facts, as described in the officer's police report, are straightforward.  My abbreviated summary of the allegations is that an officer approached a group of people appearing to be homeless, and smoking what the officer thought might be marijuana, in a park.  The officer placed one of these individuals in custody, and after observing a broken electrical outlet cover on a gazebo in the park, and hearing the individual's comment that he wanted to retrieve his phone that was plugged into the outlet, he arrested the individual for theft of utilities (i.e. the electricity that was charging his phone).  If you follow the link to the statute to read it, you will see that it really is longer than it needs to be, but it certainly does prohibit theft of utilities under certain circumstances.  Florida's code authorizes punishment for theft of utilities of a jail sentence of up to one year, and of a fine of up to $1,000.00.  However, the last report that I read indicates that the charge has been dismissed.  

My question is, what could have, and should have happened to the charge if it wasn't dismissed?  If it occurred in Washington State, at least one potential way to resolve the charge would have been a procedure commonly referred to as a compromise of misdemeanor.  In Washington State, a compromise of misdemeanor is a mechanism for resolving a misdemeanor criminal charge, with civil remedies. When it applies, it works as follows: the injured party (here, Sarasota City) appears in court and acknowledges in writing that it has received satisfaction for the injury (payment), then the court may order the proceedings discharged, and the defendant cannot be criminally charged for the same offense based on the incident.  What the injured party gets out of the deal is the primary remedy that a civil court would have awarded, compensation, what the offending party gets is to avoid the risk of a criminal conviction, and what the state gets is the accomplishment of seeing that the injured party was made whole, without bogging down the courts.  While a dismissal may have been appropriate in the Sarasota case, in many other misdemeanor cases, a compromise of misdemeanor is a win for all involved.    

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