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Proving the Value of the Property in a Florida Third Degree Grand Theft Charge

There are two categories of theft that may be charged in Broward County: grand theft and petit theft. Grand theft can be charged if there is an intentional and unlawful taking of property and the property that has been taken is worth at least $300. The prosecutor must show that the defendant specifically intended to deprive the owner of his rights to the property at issue. There are three degrees of grand theft that may be charged in Broward County with first-degree grand theft being the most serious. Third-degree grand theft is the least serious, but it is still a felony punishable by up to 5 years imprisonment or probation and a $5000 fine. Reach out to a Florida criminal defense attorney if you have questions about your grand theft charge.

In a recent appellate decision, the defendant appealed from a judgment and sentences for third-degree grand theft and burglary of a structure. He argued that he should have received a judgment of acquittal for the grand theft charge because the government didn’t prove the value of what was stolen.

In order to prove third-degree grand theft under section 812.014(2)(c)(1), prosecutors need to prove that the property stolen was worth $300-$5000. The value can be shown by providing direct testimony about what the fair market value is or by providing proof about the original market cost of the property, how the property was used, the quality and condition of the property and the percentage of depreciation of the property since it was bought. If the market value at the time and place of the grand theft can’t be determined, the prosecution can prove the replacement cost of the property. The value of the property is an element of the grand theft charge, so, like other elements of the charge, the value needs to be established beyond a reasonable doubt.

The defendant was charged with stealing maintenance equipment and tools from a golf resort. The superintendent of the grounds testified about what equipment and tools were missing. His testimony was insufficient to prove the value of the equipment and tools beyond a reasonable doubt. He testified about what was paid for some of the tools and equipment but didn’t testify about how much they would have depreciated. He testified about the replacement value of one item but didn’t give testimony that fair market value couldn’t be shown otherwise. Replacement cost evidence is not enough if there’s no testimony about the cost to replace a stolen item with a similar item the same age. Accordingly, the prosecution didn’t prove the value of everything stolen.

The appellate court acknowledged that common sense would seem to permit the jury to conclude the property was worth at least $300, and the court had been clear that common sense didn’t have a role in establishing value under the circumstances. It was not enough to apply the life experience exception in a criminal matter. Therefore the appellate court reversed the conviction and sent it back for entry of judgment for second-degree petit theft and resentencing for the same.

Grand theft is a felony charge that carries serious penalties. If you are charged with grand theft in Broward County, you should hire a lawyer who can develop the strongest possible strategy. Call The Hoffman Law Firm at (305) 928-1669 or contact us via our online form.

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