Matilda Harris (not her real name) was given a criminal summons for trespass after notice on 12/13/17. A Glades County jury found her not guilty on 5/11/18.
Shortly after the incident, Matilda retained Indian River County criminal defense attorney Jeffrey Garland for her defense. Garland reviewed the evidence, then filed a motion in limine to preclude reference to the “trespass notice” until there was evidence that the owner or custodian of the property had given written authorization to the Glades County Sheriff’s Office (GCSO) to issue a trespass notice. Of course, there was no such authorization.
Separately, Garland secured photographs of the street, yard and driveway where the trespass allegedly occurred. In addition, Garland obtained subdivision drawings and aerial photographs showing property lines and rights-of-way.
At trial, Judge Jack Lundy overruled the defense motion in limine, thereby leaving the jury to determine whether the GCSO had authority to issue the trespass notice. At trial, the deputy testified that he gave the trespass notice on 10/12/17 by phone, but never testified as to the duration of the trespass notice. A week? A month? A year? The State would later argue that the trespass notice was for “ever”.
The defense established at trial that Matilda was some three months pregnant on 12/13/17, and had just been released from the hospital due to complications. Her car was in the shop, and she no means of transportation. The defense further established that Matilda had three young children at home: ages 3, 2 and 8 months. Matilda was 23 years old.
Matilda had been having difficulties with her boyfriend, Hector (not his real name). He had taken up with an old flame on an “off and on” basis. Earlier in the day, Hector had been driving Matilda and the three children in his Ford Excursion. Hector left with all three car seats and Matilda’s cell phone.
Matilda later on looked to make a call. She could not find her phone. She was worried, because she lived in a rural part of a rural county. How would she call for help if she, or her children, had an emergency?
Matilda walked to a neighbor’s house. The neighbor tracked the phone to a specific street in Lake Port. They could not tell if Hector’s Excursion was at the “other woman’s” house, or at another friend’s house.
Matilda arranged to have the young children watched, then borrowed a pickup truck and drove to where the phone had been located. She arrived there shortly after 1:00 A.M. She parked half on the paved street and half in the grass. She got out and, as she walked toward the Excursion, she saw Hector, who was leaving. Hector gave permission to retrieve the car seats and cell phone. Of course, the Excursion was parked in the other woman’s driveway.
GCSO Sgt. Mark Taylor saw Matilda transferring a car seat when he arrived. He confirmed that the pickup truck was parked in the right-of-way, which contradicted the other woman’s testimony that Matilda had parked the pickup truck on the grass right next to the house.
The defense maintained that the State failed to prove its case:
- There was no evidence showing the exact location of the right-of-way and the property. The State failed to prove that Matilda entered upon property in lawful possession of the other woman.
- There was no evidence that the GCSO has received “written authorization” to issue a trespass notice; and just guesswork evidence as to the duration of that trespass notice.
- The evidence plainly showed that Hector was a more than occasional overnight guest a the other woman’s house. As a regular occupant, the defense maintained that he had implied authority
to give Matilda permission to retrieve the car seats and cell phone.
- Finally, the defense urged the jury to find that the defense of necessity justified the entry onto land to retrieve the car seats and cell phone. After all, Matilda needed the car seats and cell phone to avoid the danger of a medical emergency.
The jury found Matilda not guilty in just 16 minutes.
Comment from Indian River County Trespassing Defense Attorney Jeffrey Garland
Folks go to court and plea “no contest” to charges they dispute. Oftentimes, those charges arise out of the everyday complications of life. Many of those people plea just to get it over with. Problem is that nothing is ever “over with” for the police-prison industrial complex. That plead out charge will likely come back to haunt the person over and over. Police have instant access to criminal and driving records. They can quickly determine whose on probation and what for.
Matilda could easily have plead her case out. She had no criminal record. Instead, she elected to take her case to the people – a jury of her peers. Those ordinary people, who do not usually want to take time out to serve on a jury, are not beholden to the powers of the State. That is the beauty of the constitutional right to trial by jury.