Retail theft is always a concern among department stores and perhaps even more so around Christmas time when the stores are crowded and thieves see even more opportunities. Most stores now affix anti-theft devices to sale items or scanners at exits along with undercover shoppers to observe and either detain or report to police those suspected of shoplifting.
Theft at department stores continues regardless of the measures taken by managers. In a recent incident in Miami, a man and his female accomplice were arrested for the alleged theft of an $1800 handbag from a T.J. Maxx store.
The defendant, 34-year old Kyle Fuller of Lake Worth, was apparently seen cutting off the anti-theft device and then cramming the expensive handbag into his sweat pants before leaving the store without paying. Mr. Fuller also had a female companion who drove Mr. Fuller from the store. Both were later arrested at an Office Max that same day. A search of Mr. Fuller’s clothing found a wire cutter and aluminum foil, tools typically used by retail thieves to thwart anti-theft measures.
Similar incidents occur daily across South Florida but there are also instances where someone is falsely accused of theft, illegally detained or searched, or where the value of the item allegedly stolen cannot be proved. In these cases, having an experienced criminal defense law firm like The Hoffman Firm representing you can mean the difference between having a criminal record or serving time in state prison.
Petit and Grand Theft South Florida
How you are charged in a theft case in Florida depends upon the value of the item stolen. For items valued at less than $300, you are typically charged with Petit Theft.
This offense can be charged as either a first or second-degree misdemeanor:
- Second degree Petit Theft: Property valued under $100. You face a maximum of 60 days in jail and/or a $500 fine.
- First degree Petit Theft: Property valued between $100 and $299. Penalties are possible jail time of up to one year and/or a $1,000 fine.
For items whose value exceeds $300, you would be facing felony or Grand Theft charges. Grand Theft is categorized as follows:
- Third-degree Grand Theft: Items valued from $300 to $19,999
- Second degree Grand Theft: items valued between $20,000 and $99,999
- First degree Grand Theft: Items valued at $100,000 and more
Grand theft in the third degree carries a maximum prison sentence of 5 years. If convicted of second degree Grand Theft, you face up to 15 years and a fine of $10,000. First-degree theft carries up to 30 years and a $10,000 fine and you face a mandatory prison sentence.
Should you have been convicted twice of any kind of theft crime, you face a third-degree felony charge regardless of the value of the stolen property.
The value of the stolen item is its “fair market value.” Simply displaying the sticker price is not sufficient to prove the fair market value of the item and the prosecution must present credible or expert testimony in some cases or other evidence that proves its value with “specificity” or beyond a reasonable doubt.
For example, the handbag in the theft case described above may have a value of $1,800 in mint condition, but the state must produce credible and specific evidence that the bag was in a certain condition, and was perhaps made by the particular manufacturer and not a counterfeit, to indicate its market value at the time of its theft that was at least $300 to be charged as a third-degree felony.
Possession of Stolen Property
In many cases, a person is accused of theft without having been observed to have taken the item. If you are in possession of the property just minutes or hours after it was stolen, the state may infer or presume that you stole them as they are considered “recently stolen,” though you can certainly offer evidence to rebut the presumption. If, however, police find you with stolen goods weeks or months later, the state may not infer that you stole them and it must present other evidence to support the theft charge.
Even in matters where the property was recently stolen, Florida law permits the defendant to show that he or she had a reasonable explanation for why they were in possession of the stolen property. A court will determine if an explanation is either “arguably reasonable,” in which case it will go to a jury to decide, or is “patently reasonable” so that the charge must be dismissed by the court.
If you have a prior record of theft convictions, you may find it difficult to convince any judge that any explanation is patently reasonable.
Retain The Hoffman Firm
People commit crimes for various reasons. Some are done out of desperation, from peer pressure or bad judgment while others such as shoplifting are commonly committed due to acting out following a traumatic incident or simply depression. A resourceful and empathetic defense lawyer can often demonstrate to the court that mitigating factors should be considered in why a theft took place and that an alternative to conviction or jail should be imposed.
Under any circumstance where you have been accused of theft, our criminal defense lawyers will carefully review the facts to see what defenses are available to you and will vigorously defend your rights at every stage of your case from arrest to dismissal or trial.