Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Jameis Winston was accused this week of stealing crab legs from a Tallahassee, Florida Publix. Since the time of the incident, media outlets, NFL scouts, and fans of certain rival teams have taken issue with Winston’s actions, making fun, questioning his character and showing concern over his draft stock. Perhaps these concerns are warranted and perhaps not, all are certainly entitled to their opinion. At the end of the day, Winston wasn’t charged with a criminal offense for retail theft or petit theft but rather was issued a civil infraction requiring him to perform public service hours and pay a nominal fine. His eligibility for the civil infraction program was reviewed by local law enforcement in Tallahassee and Winston was ultimately deemed a proper candidate for diversionary action. I’ll be the first to admit I’m biased as I’m both a Tampa criminal lawyer and a Garnet and Gold bleeding, armchair quarterbacking, TV yelling, die hard Florida State alum. Though many believe Winston intended to steal the items from Publix, could it possibly be that this really was what just began as an innocent mistake followed by poor judgment? I’m confident my friends from that school in Hogtown will insist on his criminality but could it be possible that there was no criminal intent here?
As with most other crimes, an allegation of petit theft requires that the person accused possessed the requisite mental state to commit a crime. In English, the State Attorney must show, in order to prove a theft crime has occurred, that one intended to deprive the victim of their property either temporarily or permanently. Generally proof of intent is found circumstantially through an effort to deceive a victim, an effort to conceal the stolen item or an admission of guilt. Had the State charged Winston with a crime in this instance, it would have been for a second degree misdemeanor petit theft count as the value of the property taken was less than $100.
Though I wouldn’t normally recommend someone roll the dice and take their theft allegation to trial on a lack of mental state defense (unless the facts are completely legitimate), Winston’s initial actions in leaving the store without paying may be a decent situation where that defense could work. After winning the Heisman Trophy Winston is arguably one of the biggest sports celebrities going today. No doubt he is approached constantly by students and grown men alike asking for an autograph or picture, or doing anything they can to get his attention. If this occurred while he was in Publix, it is possible that in a moment of distraction, Winston did leave with his food, not realizing his mistake. Not to make excuses for my alma mater’s quarterback, but unfortunately being a criminal defense attorney doesn’t provide the same kind of entertaining schedule one who is a dual sport athlete on two nationally ranked collegiate teams has. He is an everyday player in two sports that overlap. He’s taking a full load of classes. The guy has to be busy. He’s probably a bit tired at times too. Could it be that that added to this incident? What of the fact that he left without concealing the items? Witnesses stated that he left holding the items in plain view. That’s not very good thievery in my opinion.
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