Alleged Car Thief Arrested in Hillsborough County
A lengthy investigation failed to nab an alleged car thief. However, police officers got lucky at a random traffic stop.
Deputies arrested the 27-year-old suspect during a traffic stop on the black Dodge Charger he was driving at the intersection of East Busch Boulevard and North Larkhall Place for multiple traffic infractions.
He was ultimately charged with grand theft of a motor vehicle and possession of a vehicle with an altered vehicle identification number (VIN,) the sheriff’s office said. During a search, they found a hidden switch that operated a black cover to conceal the license plate, the sheriff’s office said.
“This individual thought he was going to get away with this crime by hiding the tag of the car he stole. But let me tell you, our detectives are top-notch. They’re not just good; they’re exceptional at what they do,” Sheriff Chad Chronister said. “This is a clear message to criminals: you can’t outsmart us. Our commitment to keeping our community safe is firm, and those who think they can commit a crime, steal from hardworking people and businesses, will face the consequences.”
Most likely, although they investigated this offense, officers never obtained enough evidence to convince a judge to issue a warrant. The standard of evidence is much higher for warrants than traffic stops. More on that below.
At a traffic stop, an officer only needs reasonable suspicion to detain a motorist. Reasonable suspicion is basically an evidence-based hunch. The low standard makes it very difficult for a Tampa criminal defense lawyer to successfully challenge the legality of a stop. However, an attorney can use a questionable stop to cast a shadow over the remaining evidence.
Pretext traffic stops, especially for non-moving violations, are a good example. These stops include violations such as an expired license plate and a dangling object, like an air freshener, that ”obstructs” the driver’s view.
Most likely, officers see dozens of these violations on every shift. They’re hard-pressed to explain why they pulled over the defendant and let everyone else go. If the jury believes the officer targeted the defendant, they view the remaining evidence suspiciously.
Nevertheless, a successful challenge is possible. Furtive movements, like nervous glances into a rear-view mirror, are a good example. These movements, by themselves, don’t constitute reasonable suspicion. Such a movement is a hunch, not an evidence-based hunch.
This standard of evidence, which applies to arrests, search warrants, and arrest warrants, is between reasonable suspicion and probable cause. It’s also a subjective standard, because Florida law doesn’t specifically define probable cause.
To a Tampa criminal defense lawyer, the subjective nature of reasonable suspicion is a two-edged sword. On paper, it’s easier for prosecutors to establish probable cause in court. In practice, if the officer clearly overreached, jurors often believe the officer railroaded the defendant.
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
The highest standard of proof in criminal law applies to guilt or innocence at trial. DUI collision cases illustrate reasonable doubt proof issues.
The “collision” and “under the influence” elements are relatively straightforward. Collision damage is immediately apparent, regardless of the extent of damage. A hospital blood test conclusively shows the presence or absence of alcohol in the defendant’s system, as well as the BAC level.
“Driving” is a different matter, even if only one person was in the car. An attorney could convincingly argue that the defendant was a passenger and the driver fled the scene. Of course, that’s assuming the defendant asserted his/her Fifth Amendment right to remain silent, both during the investigation and at trial.
In other cases, beyond a reasonable doubt basically means the defendant always gets the benefit if the doubt. Furthermore, it also means that jurors cannot fill in the blanks on their own. Prosecutors must spell it out.
Work With a Diligent Hillsborough County Attorney
A criminal charge is not the same thing as a criminal conviction. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Tampa, contact the OA Law Firm. After-hours, virtual, and home visits are available.