More than $1 billion in property is reported stolen in Florida each year, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE). Theft accounts for about 70 percent of all property crimes. However in Florida, with a few exceptions, only those theft cases involving property worth $300 or more are considered “grand theft.”
At The Ansara Law Firm, our Fort Lauderdale theft defense attorneys know the importance of swift, skilled legal advocacy for these serious offenses. You have the right to legal counsel throughout the entire legal process, from the time of your arrest. Understand that even prior to arrest, you would be wise to decline answering police questions until you first consult with a defense lawyer. This request cannot later be held against you in court.
Grand theft is a serious felony offense in Florida, and it’s important to ensure from the beginning you are properly protected with solid representation.What is Grand Theft?
The crime of grand theft in Florida is codified within the general theft law, F.S. 812.014. The statute stipulates that grand theft is any unlawful, intentional taking of property valued at $300 or more. Penalties for this felony can include prison, probation, fines, restitution and, of course, a permanent criminal record.
The law further explains that grand theft involves:
- A defendant who unlawfully and knowingly obtained or used or tried to obtain or use someone else’s property;
- A defendant who carried out this act (or tried to) with the intent to either temporarily or permanently deprive the owner of his/ her right/ benefit to the property or to appropriate the property of the owner to his or her own use when not entitled to do so;
- Property was valued at $300 or more.
Each of these elements must be met for prosecutors to secure a conviction.Penalties for Grand Theft in Florida
Punishment for grand theft in Florida is severe, and generally depends on:
- The valuation of the property;
- What the property was;
- Whether a motor vehicle was used as an instrumentality;
- Whether there was a state of emergency in effect when property was stolen;
- Your prior criminal history.
For instance, in general, if the property was valued at more than $300, but less than $20,000, it’s considered a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. The same is true if the item stolen – regardless of value – was a firearm, motor vehicle, commercially-farmed animal, fire extinguisher, 2,000 or more pieces of fruit, a stop sign or any amount of a controlled substance.
If you are in a county where a state of emergency has been declared, and the perpetration of the theft is facilitated by conditions arising from the emergency (i.e., civil unrest, power outages, curfews, evacuations, reductions in emergency response crews, etc.), it’s considered a second-degree felony, punishable by a maximum 15 years in prison if the property is more than $5,000 but less than $20,000. (If it’s over $100 but under $300 under these conditions, it will be considered a third-degree felony, with a maximum five-year prison term.)
If the property involves law enforcement equipment or emergency medical equipment valued at $300 or more and taken from an official vehicle, it’s considered a first-degree felony, punishable by up to 30 years in prison. The same penalty is applicable if you use a motor vehicle as an instrumentality (not just as a getaway car) or if you cause more than $1,000 damage to someone’s property while committing theft of more than $300 or if you steal property valued at $100,000 or more.
And of course, your prior criminal record will factor into your final sentence.Defending Against a Grand Theft Charge
There are numerous defenses one may employ against an allegation of grand theft in Florida.
Those possible defenses include:
- Lack of intent. Prosecutors will need to show you intended to deprive the other person of their rights and/ or property. If you had a good faith belief you owned the property or you had a possessory interest/ joint ownership in the property, you should be able to avoid conviction.
- Using or obtaining for a lawful reason. If you used or took the property belonging to someone else for a lawful purpose – meaning you had a lawful right to take it or dispose of it, assuming you had a good faith belief in such a right – this can be a defense.
- Theft out of necessity or duress.
- Consent. You believed you had the consent of the owner to take the property.
- Mistake of fact. If you mistakenly believed the property you took was yours, then prosecutors will not be able to prove intent.
- Property valuation is mistaken. The burden of proof on the value of the property is on the prosecution. If they can’t definitively show the property was valued at the purported amount, then a lesser charge or dismissal may be appropriate.
Even absent one of these elements, it is possible our criminal defense lawyers will be able to successfully defend your case, fighting for a dismissal, reduced charges or reduced penalties.
If you have been arrested for grand theft in South Florida, contact the Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Lawyers at The Ansara Law Firm by calling (877) 277-3780.