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.
I don’t have all the facts of what happened this week at Publix. Winston made a statement indicating he forgot to pay and officers involved in the investigation indicated that they believed him to be telling the truth. I have no clue. In my opinion, the kid made a mistake by leaving the store without paying and made a bigger one by not going back when he realized what he had done. Though I rarely do this, on this one I will defer to the police. Considering the backlash on law enforcement for their handling of the sexual assault allegations against Winston last year, I can’t imagine they would be willing to cut him a break. The police believed that he didn’t intend to steal the items and as such, cited him civilly. At the end of the day, in order to prove a crime has occurred, all elements of said crime must be proven.
With respect to Winston being in possession of stolen property, there could be no proving a charge of dealing in stolen property under Florida Statute 812.019 without first proving that Winston stole the item. For the reasons mentioned above it is at least questionable as to Winston’s mental state when the items were taken. Without proving that the item was “stolen,” one couldn’t say that Winston possessed property he knew was stolen. Say that three times fast!
Everyone, including Florida criminal defense attorneys, will have their opinion on this situation. Whether Winston is to be believed is up you. As a Tampa criminal attorney it seems to me that there are many angles to this situation. I believe the police got this one right.
If you’ve been charged with a Federal or State crime, contact criminal attorney Jason Mayberry today at 813-444-7435 or at 727-771-3847 for a free initial consultation.