In Florida, the general crime of theft is governed by Statute 812.014, Florida Statutes. This statute lays out the elements of the crime of theft and sets the threshold values for determining the kind of theft offense committed. The crime of theft varies greatly based on the value of the items taken and the manner in which the items are taken.
The basic elements of theft include knowingly obtaining or using or endeavoring to use the property of another with the intent to either temporarily or permanently deprive the other person of a right to the property or a benefit from the property or appropriate the property to his or her own use to the use of any person not entitled to use of the property.
As can be seen, the definition of theft is very broad and can encompass almost any action wherein someone deprives the owner of the property to the use of the property, even temporarily. Further, the definition of theft necessarily includes attempted theft (endeavoring to use). This means, for example, if someone has concealed merchandize from a store in their jacket, and they are attempting to walk out of the store without paying, they have already committed the act of theft, regardless of whether they are actually able to leave the store.
Different levels of theft
There are various levels of theft. The lowest form of theft is petit theft of the second degree. This is the theft of property that is not specified in the statute (such as a fire extinguisher or a stop sign) and having a value less than $100. The property stolen must not fall into any other category in the statute, which is riddled with exceptions and enhancements. For example, if stealing a will (legal document), gun, motor vehicle, commercially farmed animal or a controlled substance, the offense is at least a third degree felony, regardless of the actual value of the property.
Petit theft of the first degree is the theft of any item valued between $100 and $300. When talking about retail theft, the price of the item determines the value. When the theft is in a non-retail context, the value of the items is determined by determining a fair market value of the property. The theft of any property valued at over $300 is at least a third degree felony and is called “Grand Theft”.
First degree grand theft, which is punishable as a first degree felony, applies to:
- Any property valued at $100,000 or more;
- A semitrailer that was deployed by a law enforcement officer;
- Cargo valued at $50,000 or more that has entered the stream of interstate or intrastate commerce between the shippers loading platform and the receiver’s loading dock;
- Any grand theft where a motor vehicle is used for anything other than a get away that damages real property; and,
- Any grand theft where the person causes $1,000 or more of damage to someone else’s property.
Second degree grand theft, which is punishable as a second degree felony, applies to:
- Any property valued at least $20,000 but less than $100,000;
- Medical equipment valued at over $300;
- Law enforcement equipment valued at over $300 taken from a vehicle; and, Cargo valued at less than $50,000 that has entered the stream of interstate or intrastate commerce between the shippers loading platform and the receiver’s loading dock.
Third degree grand theft, which is punishable as a third degree felony, applies to:
- Property valued at least $300 but less than $20,000;
- A will or codicil (part of a will);
- A firearm;
- A motor vehicle;
- Any commercially farmed animal (including a bee colony of a registered bee keeper);
- Any fire extinguisher;
- Any citrus fruit consisting of 2000 or more individual pieces of fruit;
- Anything taken from a posted construction site;
- Any stop sign;
- Anhydrous ammonia (fertilizer that can be used in bombs); and,
- Any controlled substance (illegal or prescribed drugs).
An enhancement in this context is when the legislature has singled out some category of property or a situation for increased penalty. There are too many enhancements in the statute to list here. As the statute stands at this time, some enhanced items include stop signs, controlled substances, fire extinguishers, firearms, commercially farmed animals, any items from a dwelling or from the curtilage of a dwelling and wills and codicils. Most of these items carry increased penalties for obvious reasons (for example society obviously wants increased penalties on a theft of a gun as opposed to the theft of a loaf of bread). Some items, however, are likely enhanced for political reasons, such as enhancements that apply to farmed animals and “2000 or more individual pieces of fruit” or the mandatory $10,000 fine for the theft of “aquaculture species raised at a certified aquaculture facility” (actual enhancements).
Also, the crime itself can be enhanced by prior convictions. This means if you commit even a misdemeanor petit theft of an item costing less than a dollar, you could be charged with a felony if you have prior convictions for theft. One prior conviction makes any theft at least a first degree misdemeanor and two prior convictions makes any theft at least a third degree felony.
Crime of Dishonesty / Impeachment
Theft is a crime of dishonesty. This means that if you are adjudicated guilty of the offense, the conviction can be used as impeachment if you ever testify in a criminal or civil matter. Specifically, this means that at a trial for some unrelated crime, if you chose to take the stand and testify, the jury would learn that you have a prior crime of dishonestly and they could consider that in evaluating your creditability.
Common Issues in Retail Theft
A vast majority of theft cases prosecuted are for retail theft. This is when someone commits a theft against a store, such as Wal-Mart, Target or Lowes. Here are some common issues that arise in cases of retail theft.
- Most stores, especially the larger chain stores, have excellent camera systems and loss prevention officers. This means that if caught committing retail theft, there is usually a video of the entire incident, from the time the person entered the store to the time they attempted to leave. The incident is typically downloaded and provided to the Office of the State Attorney. In cases without a camera, one can still be prosecuted based on the testimony of eyewitness. Further, even if there was a tape and is was either not collected by the police or was eventually destroyed by the store (for example, it was recorded over by the recoding system), one can still be prosecuted based on testimony of witnesses.
- Most major stores will not only prosecute someone who steals from the store, but will pursue the person civilly as well. This means that not only will a person face criminal charges, but that person will also be sued for civil theft, which includes a claim for damages three times the amount of the item stolen or attempted to be stolen, per Florida Statute 771.11(1). The statute also includes provisions for minimum damages of $200 and reasonable costs and attorney’s fees for the victim of the theft. The only advantage of this statute for the accused is that it raises the level of proof required in the civil context to that of clear and convincing evidence instead of a preponderance of evidence.
- The level of theft offense is determined by the listed price of the items stolen. So stealing items worth $315 would be a third degree felony. But if those items were on sale for a total of $299, it would be misdemeanor.
Defending Against a Theft Charge
Whether charged with the lower form of theft or a serious felony violation, every defendant facing a theft charge should hire an experienced attorney. The attorneys of Silverman, Vorhis & Mack have years of experience in theft cases with all of our criminal attorneys handling routine theft cases and some handling larger cases including alleged embezzlements of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Our attorney can defend people accused of theft both criminally and civilly and diligently work to protect all of the rights of the accused. For more information on theft cases, contact one of our experienced criminal attorneys today.