Identity Theft in the State of Florida
The following is a transcript of an interview done on our theft, fraud and forgery cases, with a focus on identity theft.
Interviewer: I see. From these levels of theft crimes, we haven’t talked about identity theft. What level are those crimes? How serious is that and what’s involved?
Ladan Law: What we’re seeing now is a lot of fraudulent use of people’s identification. Identification is used fairly loosely here in the state of Florida. That can mean a bank account number. That can mean a pin number. That can mean using somebody’s name at a bank, signing somebody else’s name to a check. We’re seeing this offense more and more. It is a felony offense. It’s an easy way for prosecutors to bump up some charge, for example a worthless check amount, even though it’s less than the $300.00 amount, they use this particular offense to bump it up into felony court.
Diffusing the Felony Charge
That’s becoming quite an attractive prosecution option for the state and they’re using it more and more. We’ve been able to diffuse that situation in quite a number of cases. When we get to the trial, we prove that this is more of a petty theft type of situation because of the amount being so low, as opposed to a felony situation.
Committing Felonies: Intentional Versus Unintentional
Interviewer: How do felonies normally arise? What’s the most common way people, either intentionally or unintentionally, commit it?
Ladan Law: If you sign your name to someone else’s check and took it into a bank, even though the amount was $15.00 on the check, that would be using fraudulent information, because you’re using somebody else’s account number on the bottom of the check. That action applies to the personal information definition in the statute. So, you can conceivably be committing a felony. That happens quite a lot.
Folks who leave their debit card somewhere and a person uses the card at a gas station at one of the pumps where identifying information isn’t required; that could be a felony even though the amount they take is less than the $300.00 threshold amount. We’re seeing that more and more.
The more sophisticated activity, the skimming the numbers, the sophisticated computer equipment that’s used will be treated much more severely than the simple case of taking a debit or credit card and running a purchase that wasn’t authorized by the actual owner.
Interviewer: You probably run into the lower-level charges more frequently. Is that right?
Ladan Law: Yes, we do. Very rarely do we encounter somebody who’s the higher echelon of actually generating credit cards or placing skimming machines on ATMs to pull off people’s credit numbers. Those people are very elusive and it’s a very difficult crime to intercept while it is happening. Law enforcement officers down here are having a difficult time dealing with it.
Ways to Mitigate Penalties for Theft Crimes
Interviewer: For the lower level charges, what are some of the penalties at the outset and what are you often times able to have them mitigated?
Fourth Amendment and What Right It Protects
Ladan Law: Obviously, we always start off by taking a look at the case as a whole and seeing if any of the clients’ rights were violated. A good place to look is the Fourth Amendment. Was there an unlawful search or seizure, anywhere in the chain, that led the law enforcement officers to procure more evidence against that person than is legally permitted? We always want to start there.
Prior Criminal Records and a Diversion Program
Then we want to take a look at a person’s prior record. Are they going to be considered for diversion and who should we talk to, to start facilitating that process? If there are no problems with the search or the seizure, and they client is not diversion eligible, now we start talking to the trial-level prosecutor to see where, on the threshold of possible sentences, our client falls.
Negotiating with the Trial Prosecutor
Every prosecutor, and I know because I used to do that job, holds up every case to this invisible yardstick of justice that they have. Because they prosecute case after case after case, they make a determination wherein the crime falls. A low-level theft case, in my opinion, would be initially offered between 12 and 18 months probationary period, a theft class, and restitution to the victim for any money that was missing and court costs. That would be a reasonable initial offering.
Your Attorney Can Advise You on the Best Option
Now, where it goes from there is, obviously, up to many factors: the personnel that’s on the other side, the judge and the prior criminal history. All of those are variables that a knowledgeable attorney is going to be able to work into the equation and give their clients the peace of mind by saying, “This is the offer. I believe this is as good as it’s going to get and I either recommend that you take it,” or, “I recommend that we do not take this and we take our chances in front of a jury because I find the evidence week on this many fronts.”
Any attorney who’s worth his salt is just giving the client enough information to make an educated decision as to what they want to do with their own case.