If you have been charged with a theft crime in Florida, you should seek the advice of an experienced criminal defense specialist right away. The penalties can be severe if you're convicted, but there are many defenses you can assert that can get the charges dropped or reduced. It is important to understand how Florida views theft crimes in order to craft a successful defense. Here is some insight into Florida's theft crime statutory scheme.
How Does Florida Define Theft?
Florida Statutes §812.014 defines theft as follows:
(1) A person commits theft if he or she knowingly obtains or uses, or endeavors to obtain or to use, the property of another with intent to, either temporarily or permanently:
(a) Deprive the other person of a right to the property or a benefit from the property.
(b) Appropriate the property to his or her own use or to the use of any person not entitled to the use of the property.
It is the value of the property taken which determines the level of the crime. Here is a breakdown of the levels of theft crimes in Florida:
Defenses to Florida Theft Crimes
You will notice that the statute requires that the taking of property to be done knowingly, and with intent. When property is taken by mistake, it is not a crime. For example, it's unlikely that charges would be brought against a parent that runs out of a store with some merchandise still hanging on the stroller bars, when the baby starts wailing. A mother that doesn't notice when her five-year-old walks out of a store with a candy in his hand, is unlikely to go to jail. On the other hand, if a parent was spotted by store security, placing ten onesies under their baby's blanket, this evidence is likely to bring a charge for theft. Florida considers theft crimes to be “crimes of dishonesty,” so taking something by mistake is always a good first line of defense. If the charges against you are fabricated by somebody with a grudge, it is important to show facts to support the soured relationship and the accuser's propensity for being vindictive. This defense is more likely to be successful if you are being charged with a first offense. If you suffer from a mental illness, the court may agree to help you avoid prison time and a criminal record, if you agree to seek counseling. Charges for more serious theft crimes and charges against repeat offenders are unlikely to be dropped, so pleading to a lesser charge that does not result in jail time can often be a wise choice.
What Are the Penalties for Theft Crimes in Florida?
Florida's penalties for theft crimes can be severe and can have long lasting implications, even without a conviction. For example, if you are charged with a theft crime, you will have your fingerprints taken. Even if you are not convicted, your name may still appear in a national database that employers use for background checks. Convictions can result in prison time, probation, large fines, and difficulty obtaining employment for many years, or even permanently. Repeat offenders are subject to enhanced penalties. The threshold dollar amount that defines the crime as a misdemeanor or a felony was recently raised to $750.
There may be number of potentially aggravating factors, the following offers a general breakdown of the kind of punishments one can expect if convicted of a theft-related crime.
Property valued at less than $100 – This is a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 60 days in jail.
Property valued at between $100 and $750 – This is a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail.
Property valued at between $750 and $20,000 or a stolen firearm, motor vehicle, commercial farm animal, stop sign or large quantities of citrus – This is a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.
Property valued at between $20,000 and $100,000 – This is a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
Property valued at $100,000 or more – This is a first-degree felony, punishable by up to 30 years in prison.
Commission of any grand theft that uses a motor vehicle as an instrumentality or results in more than $1,000 in damage to real or personal property of another – This is a first-degree felony, punishable by up to 30 years in prison.
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