Florida lawmakers looking to crack down on cross-county burglaries

State lawmakers are hoping to make it easier for prosecutors to apply stiffer penalties to criminals who cross county lines to commit burglaries.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – State lawmakers are hoping to make it easier for prosecutors to apply stiffer penalties to criminals who cross county lines to commit burglaries.

Heightened sentences have been in place for cross-county burglaries since 2014, but a bill moving through the Florida Legislature would lower the burden of proof required to make the enhanced penalties stick.

Currently, prosecutors must not only prove a burglar intended to cross county lines to enhance their sentence by one degree, but they also must prove the burglar did so with the intent of making it harder for law enforcement to track the stolen items.

“What burglar do you know goes up to the police and says, ‘Hey, by the way, this is stolen?’” said state Sen. Gayle Harrell.

Harrell’s legislation would lower the burden of proof necessary to apply a stiffer sentence, requiring prosecutors only prove county lines were crossed intentionally.

“So that this statute that was put in place in 2014 can be enforced,” said Harrell.

Harrell said that in some counties like Martin and Pasco, more than 40% of burglaries are committed by people who traveled across county lines.

Criminal justice reform advocates argued in the bill’s first committee hearing that imaginary lines shouldn’t dictate the severity of a crime.

“Burglary should carry the same sentence no matter where it occurs,” said Kim White, who came from Orlando to testify.

But the committee chair, state Sen. Jason Pizzo, noted the law isn’t aimed at unsophisticated criminals.

“We can do things that result in people going, I had no idea that was the case. This is not to trap unsophisticated individuals. This is for people who are organizing, planning and scheming,” said Pizzo.

Notably absent from the bill’s first committee hearing were criminal defense attorneys.

It was a point highlighted by the chair, who suggested even if this change passes, proving a burglar intentionally crossed county lines will still be an incredibly difficult task.

The legislation has already cleared its first committees in the House and Senate ahead of the official start of session on Jan. 11.