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When can a test drive become theft in Florida?

Readers of this blog who have bought a new or used car from a dealer probably know the ritual of the test drive. The hopeful buyer takes the vehicle they are interested in for a spin and returns to the dealer a short time later. But for one Florida man recently, a test drive ended in a way he probably didn't expect: he was charged with felony grand theft after he didn't return the vehicle for three hours.

The 67-year-old man went into a dealership in Belleview and asked if he could test drive a used pickup truck. He gave the dealer his phone number and allowed them to copy his driver's license. An employee of the dealership followed the man but then lost sight of him. When the truck hadn't been returned three hours later, the dealer called police. In the meantime they had allegedly discovered that the address and phone number he had given were incorrect.

When authorities found the man and pulled him over, there were allegedly some tools and lumber belonging to the man in the back of the truck. According to police, the man said he intended to return the truck but wanted to do some work with it first.

This case could turn on the question of the man's intent. In Florida, the crime of theft does not require the intent to permanently take the property in question. A person is deemed to commit theft even if they only intended to temporarily deprive another person of the right to their property. But here the dealer consented to the man taking the vehicle temporarily. The question is, for how long was the consent given? According to the suspect, the whole thing was an honest misunderstanding.

The burden is on prosecutors to prove every element of the alleged crime - including intent - beyond a reasonable doubt. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help a person facing theft charges negotiate with prosecutors to have the charges dismissed or reduced.

Source: Ocala Star-Banner, "Florida man arrested after extra-long test drive," June 3, 2013

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Andrew M. Coffey has been recognized as a Board Certified Civil Trial lawyer by the Florida Bar. Certification is the highest level of recognition by The Florida Bar of the competency and experience of attorneys in the areas of law approved for certification by the Supreme Court of Florida.

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