As a former burglary victim and father of three young children, I especially feel for Ray Allen and his family. I thoroughly understand why they’re demanding the arrest and maximum charge for all intruders who brazenly entered their home while they slept. What an extraordinary violation!
As a result of the media attention on this case, both the Coral Gables Police Department and the Miami-Dade State Attorneys Office have come under criticism for announcing that the most serious offense for which they could be charged is misdemeanor trespass. Some, including a few of my colleagues in the criminal arena, have erroneously suggested that there’s sufficient evidence to charge the intruders with burglary (a felony). They are mistaken and/or misinformed. Unless there’s proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the offenders intended to commit a crime like theft and/or vandalism while unlawfully in the home, the appropriate charge must be trespass. The law specifically requires proof to be more than mere speculation. Absent additional evidence, prosecutors and law enforcement officers’ hands are tied. A judge who was following the law would be required to dismiss burglary charges in this case, absent additional evidence.
So what’s the harm with overcharging them? One could make the argument that their conduct warrants the most serious charge possible. Why not just charge them with the burglary, as some of my colleagues have suggested, and then plea bargain the case down? The reason why that should never be done is because it would be unlawful. Additionally, the minute we allow law enforcement and/or prosecutors to overcharge suspects absent sufficient evidence is the beginning of the end for the criminal system. While it might be ok with you in this instance, imagine if it was done to you and/or someone you cared about under different circumstances. How would you feel if your careless driving (a mere traffic infraction that you could pay) turned into a reckless driving (a criminal offense, punishable by up to 90 days in jail) merely because the officer was upset with your attitude and/or didn’t know any better?
These intruders need to learn from what they did. They also should be punished for their actions. However, cbarging them with burglary with these facts would set a horrible legal precedent and would result in a miscarriage of justice.