Thomas G. WitkopLaw Offices

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Tree Sap Acquits My Client

Sometimes nobody gets it including yours truly. The prosecutor did not get the case, the judge did not get part of the case, I did not get the whole case. My client was charged with theft of a Kawasaki all-terrain vehicle in Charles County. The facts were that the victim had his all-terrain vehicle stolen from his house in February of 2008. In July of 2009 my client along with three other Hispanic males was inside of his van and was parked in a remote area in Charles County. Somebody saw that and called the police because it seemed suspicious. The police came and saw that there were four Hispanic males inside of the van and that there was an ATV in the van also. The officer thought this was suspicious. The officer ordered the men out of the van and ordered them to remove the all-terrain vehicle and began checking the vehicle identification number. Initially, it came back negative-it was not stolen. Not long after that communications contacted the officer and advised that the vehicle was indeed stolen.

My client was charged with theft of the all-terrain vehicle even though the theft had occurred 17 months earlier.

The prosecutor refused to drop the case. The defendants appeared three times in District Court and each time the case was continued for one reason or another. Finally we requested a jury trial. Still the prosecutor would not drop the case. I could not understand how they would prove this case? They provided the discovery information and there was nothing else in it. My client did not admit to stealing the all-terrain vehicle. There were no witnesses who could prove that he stole it from the house. My client had told the police officer that he and his friends had seen deer in the woods and followed the deer into the woods and came upon this vehicle. The vehicle appeared to be abandoned and in a ditch and so they took it. There was no license plate on the vehicle. There was no evidence that the vehicle had recently been driven. The ignition had not been popped.

At trial the owner of the vehicle testified that his vehicle was stolen from his home in February 2008. In July of 2009 he was contacted by the police and he went down to identify his vehicle. He took his keys along. When he saw the vehicle. On cross examination I want to establish that the vehicle was abandoned. The owner admitted that the vehicle was covered in tree sap. The owner admitted that the engine was cool to the touch which would suggest that the vehicle had not recently been started. It was determined that my client and his friends had no riding gear with them-no motorcycle helmets, boots, etc. All of this was consistent with what my client had told the officer that they had found it and it seemed abandoned.

The officer testified that the situation seemed suspicious. I could not figure out how this was suspicious. The license plate on the car was legitimate. My client's driver's license was legitimate. I think what seemed suspicious is that you had four Hispanic men in a van. Strangely, the judge found this to be sufficiently suspicious to allow the officer to further investigate. The judge was troubled with the officer's order to remove the van because the judge could not see how the officer had probable cause at that point.

They called two other witnesses and I do not believe they added anything to the case. One of them lived in the area and I was able to establish that there was a large woods where the ATV was found. The other one I did not even bother cross examining.

After this evidence the state rested.

I did not even have to put on a defense. The judge granted our motion for judgment of acquittal. The evidence was completely consistent with people finding an abandoned vehicle in the woods. He could not see how the state could prove that my client intended to steal the vehicle. There was no evidence that he stole the vehicle. My client was found not guilty of the charge.

After the trial the prosecutor still did not get it. She was arguing to me her theory of the case which had just been completely debunked. I finally did get it, the prosecution had no case and never could make a case.
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