Theft charges damage one's reputation even when the accusations are false. Theft in Florida involves the taking of another person's property as well as the attempt to take another person's property. Thus, even a failed attempt at theft can be punished just as harshly as if the theft had been completed. I have extensive experience defending all types of theft charges in Florida courts, including petit theft, shoplifting, fraud, grand theft, grand theft of a motor vehicle, grand theft of a firearm, grand theft from a dwelling, theft from employers, robbery, organized scheme to defraud, false verification of ownership to a pawnbroker, financial exploitation of an elderly person, as well as white collar crimes and other economic crimes.
Any theft of property valued at $750 or more is a felony in Florida. However, it is also a felony to take or attempt to take:
- anything worth $100 or more that is stolen from a dwelling (a home or residence);
- anything less than $750, if the person charged has two prior convictions for petit theft. This third or subsequent theft is called a "felony petit theft.";
- a firearm;
- a motor vehicle;
- a farm animal;
- a fire extinguisher;
- citrus fruit (2,000 pieces or more of fruit);
- any property from a construction site;
- any stop sign;
- anhydrous ammonia (a farm fertilizer commonly used to make methamphetamine); or
- any controlled substance.
Most of these types of grand theft would be third-degree felonies punishable by a maximum five years in prison. However, for a first time offender, one charge of grand theft would not permit a prison sentence in most cases because grand theft scores very low on a Criminal Punishment Code (CPC) scoresheet. The CPC directs the courts how a person can be punished for felonies in Florida. If a person's score is below 22 points, a prison sentence can rarely be justified. Grand theft, for example, scores 10 points, so one year in the county jail is, practically speaking, the maximum penalty. This is probably no consolation to a first-time offender looking to win their case or avoid jail altogether.
Theft of property valued at $20,000 to $100,000 is a first-degree felony punishable by a maximum 30 years in prison.
A seldom-used part of the Florida theft statute permits the State to charge someone with a second-degree felony for helping to coordinate a theft of property valued at over $3,000. I have never seen anyone charged with this, but the maximum would be 15 years in prison.
In my experience, it is rare for someone to receive the maximum penalty for a felony theft crime, at least in Palm Beach County. For a first-time offender, this would almost never happen. But for a repeat offender, especially a person who has served prior prison sentences for theft, the maximum penalty could be on the table.
Petit theft is either a first or second-degree misdemeanor in Florida. The difference is in the maximum penalty: a first-degree misdemeanor is punishable by one year in jail and second-degree misdemeanor is punishable by 60 days in jail.
The lower degree is reserved for cases where the property cannot be valued accurately or at all. An example would be an old flip phone or property that has only sentimental value. Theft of an ATM card would also be a second-degree misdemeanor petit theft because the value of the card itself is indeterminate. The value of money in the account to which the ATM card is connected does not matter. Of course, if money is actually taken out of the bank with the card, that would be different.
Recently Stolen Property
A person who is found with property that has been recently stolen from its owner can be convicted of theft, even without any proof that they actually took the property. There has been much written in the law about what "recently" means. Florida courts have found hours, days, or even weeks to be "recent" enough for a jury to conclude a person is guilty of theft based only on being found with the stolen property. A lawyer would have a great argument that being found weeks later with a stolen item is not a very strong case of theft against their client.
Dealing in Stolen Property
This is a commonly charged theft-related crime. Dealing in stolen property carries a stiff maximum penalty of 15 years in prison as a second-degree felony. It is commonly charged along with grand theft and is most often related to pawnshop transactions involving stolen property. To be guilty of dealing in stolen property, a person must "know or should have known" the property was stolen when they traffic or endeavor to traffic (sell or transfer) this property. The prosecutor must prove this guilty knowledge in order to successfully prosecute a dealing in stolen property case.
Pawning a piece of property for significantly less than its value can make a person look guilty of this crime. Pawnshops never pay the full market value for items because this is how they turn a profit. The true owner of the property is often in the best position to know the actual value. A thief often neither knows nor cares what the property is truly worth and will accept far less from a pawnbroker. The true owner is also reluctant to part with property for a fraction of its value, unless they are desperate for cash or have a drug problem.
Pawnshops keep great records, including videos and fingerprints of all their patrons. Thus, identity of the suspect is hardly ever an issue.
However, not all pawnshop business is done by criminals. Sometimes there is a significant passage of time between the time the property was taken from its owner and the time it is pawned. In such cases, it is not easy to prove knowledge that the property was stolen.
Even though many people are charged with both grand theft and dealing in stolen property, a person cannot legally be convicted of both by a court. This is because it violates the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution's prohibition against being prosecuted twice for substantially the same crime. This is commonly referred by as "double jeopardy." However, some people are in fact convicted of both offenses as part of a plea bargain. If the person's lawyer does not tell them this is an illegal result, then the person waives that claim by signing the plea agreement.
False Verification of Ownership
This is an offense that goes hand-in-hand with dealing in stolen property. When property is pawned or sold to any secondhand dealer, the pawnbroker will require a signed verification that the seller is the property's true owner. If the seller falsely claims to be the property's owner or shows a fake identification card during the pawnshop transaction, that would be false verification of ownership. It is a third-degree felony with a maximum punishment of 5 years if the person receives less than $300 from the transaction. It is a second-degree felony with a maximum punishment of 15 years if the person receives $300 or more from the transaction.
Burglary is often, but not always, a theft-related crime. Burglary is also considered a violent offense in Florida.