Hurricane Irma was a devastating, record-breaking storm that ravaged our state. In its wake, we find ourselves cleaning up wreckage, waiting for power to come back on, and assessing damage.For many, though, desperation settles in as stores and homes remain shuttered and necessities like gas, food, and water are difficult to come by.Some people deal with these circumstances and wait for places to reopen. Others decide not to wait and are reduced to looting from evacuated properties across South Florida.
Looting Fears Become Florida Reality
We’ve seen the stories of looters from the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Houston and the surrounding area. Now, those stories are a reality in our own state.
- Florida state police have been tasked with escorting fuel trucks to gas stations in evacuation areas amidst looting concerns. Gas station attendants in certain danger zones also received “law-enforcement entourages” for protection while evacuees filled up their tanks.
- 26 people were accused of breaking into one Walmart store in North Miami.
- Six men were charged with looting shoes, bags, and laptops from a Miami shopping center.
- Lauderdale police caught 9 looters from CashAmerica Pawn and sporting goods store Simon’s on West Sunrise Boulevard after WPLG cameras filmed them breaking into the store and leaving with stolen items, including boxes of sneakers.
To deter potential looters, law enforcement officials took to social media to issue official warnings.The Pembroke Pines Police Department tweeted, “Any looters who come to Pembroke Pines will be greeted by our officers. Choose wisely and stay home.”The Broward County Sheriff’s Office tweeted, “ATTENTION LOOTERS; Every incident will be investigated. Evidence collected will be used to pursue charges after the fact.”The Ft. Lauderdale Police Department alerted their followers about the arrest of the 9 looters caught on camera as well as offering a direct quote from Police Chief Maglione: “Going to prison over a pair of sneakers is a fairly bad life choice. Stay home and look after your loved ones and be thankful they are all safe.”The Miami Police Department took their warning a step further and shared a photo of looting suspects in custody along with this message on Facebook: “Thinking about looting? Ask these guys how that turned out. #stayindoors”.
Does the Fear of Looting Exceed the Reality?
Some people believe these fears of looting are a bit overblown, however. As of Wednesday, September 13, 37 people in Miami had been arrested for looting. That number pales in comparison to the 2.7 million population of Miami-Dade County.The Miami New Times acknowledges that looting is in fact a crime, but they counter that “in the grand scheme of things, these are minor crimes” that are usually committed by people who “live in bleak poverty and are trapped on the wrong end of an economic system that has created the least equal society in American history.”Regardless of why people have been reduced to looting or whether the media has blown it out of proportion, looting is a crime here in Florida, and if you’re caught you could face a number of charges – and they are something to be afraid of.
What Charges Will I Face for Looting in Florida?
Depending on the circumstances of your alleged looting arrest, you could face theft, burglary, violating emergency measures, and a slew of other charges.Let’s look at burglary specifically. If you’re caught entering a dwelling, a structure, or a conveyance without permission and with the intent to commit an offense therein, you could be charged with burglary.Burglary can be a first, second, or third-degree felony offense, but “if the burglary is committed within a county that is subject to a state of emergency declared by the Governor under chapter 252 after the declaration of emergency is made and the perpetration of the burglary is facilitated by conditions arising from the emergency,” then the punishment is elevated to the next level.For example, if you’re unarmed, break into a store, do not commit an assault or battery, and there is not another person in the store, then you can be charged with a third-degree felony, which is punishable by up to 5 years in prison.However, if you commit that exact same burglary in a county that has declared a state of emergency, your charges will get bumped up to a second-degree felony, which is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.Bottom line: simply by committing a crime in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, the punishment for that crime automatically becomes more severe.For that reason, if you are caught allegedly looting post-Irma, reach out to an experienced South Florida criminal defense attorney to fight and aggressively defend your charges.About the Author:Attorney David W. Olson is the founder of the Law Offices of David W. Olson in West Palm Beach. He has been practicing criminal law and successfully representing clients throughout the State of Florida for over 30 years. Throughout his legal career, Mr. Olson has been honored numerous times for both his dedication and excellence in criminal law. He proudly holds the Martindale-Hubbell AV Rating, as well as being recognized as a Top 100 Trial Lawyer (2013), in the Nation’s Top One Percent of attorneys (2015), and as a 10 Best Member of the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys (2015). He has even received commendations from members of congress and other public officials for the fantastic work that he's done. Mr. Olson graduated from the University of Florida’s Fredric G. Levin College of Law in 1981 and has been a member of the Florida Bar since 1983.