In Florida, petit theft is one of the most commonly filed charges. Prosecutors typically expect defendants not to put up much of a fight over the charge, either pleading guilty or hastily accepting a half-baked, unfavorable plea deal.
A conviction for petit theft can result in jail time, probation, community service, fines, orders for restitution and other long-term consequences due to the permanent criminal record.
At The Ansara Law Firm, our Fort Lauderdale petit theft defense lawyers are committed to minimizing the impact of these charges on your life.
The first step is unpacking the various elements of how Florida law defines petit theft and what prosecutors must show to prove it.What Is Petit Theft?
Petit theft is sometimes referred to as “petty theft,” but that doesn’t mean you can expect prosecutors to go easy on you.
Petit theft in Florida involve the taking or using of property valued at under $300 with the intention to deprive the owner of a right or benefit of the property. It’s a misdemeanor crime.
Although it’s often charged in shoplifting cases, there is no requirement that the offense occur in a store or involve a retailer.
If a case of petit theft goes to trial (which is relatively rare), prosecutors must prove two things beyond a reasonable doubt:
Defendant unlawfully and knowingly obtained or used (or tried to obtain or use) the alleged victim’s property.
Defendant took this action with the intention to temporarily or permanently deprive alleged victim of any benefit from the property or to appropriate victim’s property for defendant’s own use or to the use of other person’s not entitled to it.
So in order to obtain a conviction, prosecutors have to be able to show defendant had specific criminal intent. Accidental taking (i.e., a small child puts an item into your cart undetected) is not considered petit theft.
Prosecutors can prove intent by presenting substantial competent evidence of the surrounding circumstances, from which intent can be inferred.Punishment for Petit Theft
There are two levels of severity for the charge of petit theft in Florida: First-degree petit theft and Second-degree petit theft. Which charge applies will depend on the value of items allegedly stolen, as well as the defendant’s prior criminal history.
Petit theft of the second degree applies when:
- Value of property stolen was less than $100.
- Defendant has no prior theft convictions.
In this case, maximum penalties can include:
- Up to six months in jail.
- Up to six months of probation.
- Up to $500 in fines.
- Mandatory six months driver’s license suspension.
Meanwhile, petit theft of the first-degree applies when:
Value of property stolen was more than $100, but less than $300.
Defendant has a prior conviction on a theft-related offense.
Maximum penalties for this crime can include:
- Up to one year in jail.
- Up to one year of probation.
- Up to $1,000 in fines.
- Mandatory one year driver’s license suspension.
It should also be noted that because petit theft is considered a “crime of dishonesty,” it will be viewed on your permanent criminal record as grounds to deny you certain employment and education opportunities.Defenses to Petit Theft
The good news is there are numerous effective approaches to defending a charge of petit theft.
In addition to the typical pre-trail defenses we would explore (motion to suppress due to unlawful arrest or search), we could also look to see whether one of the following may apply:
- Poor video quality resulting in factual dispute about identity of the suspect;
- Customer mistakenly leaving store;
- Only a momentary deprivation of property;
- Customer forgot about items placed in bag or stroller;
- Mistaken identity;
- Set-up by a co-defendant;
- Exit of store/ premises was predicated by a reason other than desire to steal (i.e., to retrieve a purse or wallet to pay);
- Price tags were altered by previous customers.
In situations where there is strong evidence defendant tried to take the property, we might also assert a defense of abandonment, withdrawal or renunciation. This would involve presenting proof that accused abandoned the attempt to steal or otherwise acted in such a way to prevent the commission of the crime.
There will be some cases where there isn’t a viable defense. However, because this charge can be serious, our defense lawyers will look to see if there is an option for a pretrial intervention, or diversion program. This is typically offered for first-time offenders, who are given the opportunity to walk away with no criminal record in exchange for completion of programs that include community service, restitution payments, financial responsibility courses and other requirements.
If you have been charged with petit theft in South Florida, contact the Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Lawyers at The Ansara Law Firm by calling (877) 277-3780.