According to the Palm Beach Post, a West Palm woman is accused of carjacking a man at the 6000 block of South Dixie Boulevard. Allegedly, the woman and an unknown male accomplice accosted the victim as he exited a nearby Mexican Restaurant, stealing the Honda CRV he was driving. What is more, the woman confessed...albeit to a different crime altogether.
According to the woman's statement to police, the alleged victim picked her up in West Palm Beach in the Honda CRV, looking for sex. When the man parked the car in an alley and walked around toward the passenger side of the vehicle (presumably to consummate the transaction) the woman took the opportunity to drive away in the car.
Stories such as this are all too common in the practice of criminal law in South Florida. More often than not, there is more to the story than meets the eye. While it is certainly possible that the alleged victim was beaten by the woman and an unknown assailant, it is interesting that two complete strangers were so intrigued with the victim's Honda CRV that they just had to have it, even if it meant beating a man and stealing it. Then again, it was a red Honda CRV.
Of course, according to the alleged victim's statement, it wasn't really his Honda CRV at all. Rather, the car belonged to a friend of his, who supposedly lent him the vehicle so that he could conduct repairs on it. Presumably, the alleged victim was able to provide the West Palm Beach Police Department with the name and address of the real owner of the car.
Then there is the troubling story of the unknown assailant. The alleged victim, who couldn't possibly have picked up a prostitute in a vehicle he didn't own, was only overtaken after a powerful mystery-man muscled him out of the vehicle. According to the alleged victim's story, the unknown assailant jumped in the car with the woman and sped off.
However, when police caught up with the vehicle, which was still on I-95 heading northbound, only the woman was in the car. When the woman eventually crashed the car in Riviera Beach, only the woman was at the scene, and only the woman fled on foot. To date, the unknown assailant remains at large--or remains as the figment of the victim's imagination.
To the lay person, these potential discrepancies seem to be of little note. At worst, a woman and an unknown man carjacked a victim's car, engaged in a high-speed police chase, crashed the car and fled on foot. At best, a prostitute stole a "John's" car, engaged in a high-speed police chase, crashed the car and fled on foot. Not much of a difference, as both scenarios include a complete disregard for the law, safety, and property.
However, these potential discrepancies are very important to the prosecution, which has the burden of proving the criminal activity beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt. A quick look at the most serious alleged charge sheds light on the difficulty the prosecution will face.
Carjacking Without a Weapon is a crime defined in Florida Statute 812.133(2)(b). The charge of Carjacking Without a Weapon consists of three elements: 1) the Defendant took a motor vehicle from the person or custody of the victim; 2) force, violence, assault, or putting in fear was used in the course of the taking; and 3) the taking was with the intent to temporarily or permanently deprive the victim of his or her right to the motor vehicle; or, to appropriate the victim's motor vehicle to his or her own use or to the use of any person not entitled to it. The crime is a level 7, first degree felony; which means the crime carries a presumed lowest permissible sentence including prison, with a maximum 30 year prison sentence.
Thus, in order for the prosecution to prove a Carjacking occurred, the prosecutor would need to prove that the taking of the vehicle was with force or threat of force. Such a showing would preclude reliance on the woman's statement to police, because in her version of events, she never used force or threat of force. The prosecution's case would require reliance on the credibility of the victim's story that an unknown assailant, acting as a principle to the crime, violently attacked him. The prosecution could bolster the credibility of the victim's story with evidence of injury to the victim or corroboration that the victim had just exited the Mexican Restaurant after having eaten dinner and was not with a prostitute. However, short of such corroborative evidence, it is highly unlikely that the prosecution could successfully bring carjacking charges.
The woman did, however, admit to taking the car, which might open her up to liability for committing Grand Theft of a Motor Vehicle (commonly referred to as "Grand Theft Auto"), which is defined in Florida Statute 812.014(2)(c)(6). The charge of Grand Theft Motor Vehicle consists of three elements: 1) the Defendant knowingly and unlawfully obtained or used the property of the victim; 2) he or she did so with the intent to either temporary or permanently deprive the victim of his or her right to the property; or to appropriate the property of the victim to his or her own use or to the use of any person not entitled to it; and 3) the property was a motor vehicle. The crime is a level 4, third degree felony, which means the crime does not require a prison sentence, but may involve a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison.
Obviously, a charge of Grand Theft Motor Vehicle is a far less serious charge than Carjacking. The woman may attempt to claim a defense of duress; however, this is unlikely, considering that she ran from the police, crashed the car, and then fled on foot; not to mention that it doesn't appear as though she raised duress during her statement to police.