A hypothetical for you: your boss gives you money to invest in a new type of software for your company, and instead of purchasing the software, you use that money to pay your rent.
That is theft by conversion.
Broadly speaking, theft by conversion is when a person receives permission to use personal property or funds and then takes control of this property in a way that violates the initial agreement. This definition offers a unique twist to typical theft or larceny charges, as the defendant didn’t take the property or asset illegally. Typically, this means there was some sort of lease or usage contract agreed upon by the owner and defendant.
According to a First District Court of Appeal case, three factors must be present for conversion to occur. “First, the party in possession must be informed that continued possession of the property is no longer permitted; second, the rightful owner must demand the return of the property; and third, the party holding the property must fail to comply with the demand.”
In a conversion claim, the plaintiff must establish five points, by a preponderance of the evidence:
- The specific piece of property, asset, or money
- An initial possessory right to said property, asset, or money
- The unauthorized act which deprives the initial owner of that property, asset, or money
- A clear demand for the return of the property, asset, or money
- A refusal to return the property, asset, or money
What Are the Penalties of Theft by Conversion?
Theft by conversion can be tried in either criminal or civil court, or both; therefore, the legal ramifications for conversion cases range wildly based on the monetary value of the asset in question and state law. There are serious consequences to conversion cases in Florida, even when these cases are classified as petit theft; however, felonious intent must be established. Florida Statute 772.11 states that the plaintiff can be awarded up to threefold the actual damages sustained in addition to reasonable court costs and attorney’s fees.
Are There Any Defenses for Conversion Claims?
In a word, yes. Your local criminal attorney is a great resource for understanding the types of defense that would work best for your specific circumstance. A few questions your attorney might ask to establish a defense are:
- Has the plaintiff established the previously mentioned five points?
- Did you actually have the consent of the property owner?
- Was the property abandoned?
- Were you privileged to commit the act in order to protect your own property or avoid physical harm?
- Were you involuntarily intoxicated at the time you misappropriated the property/asset?
Your criminal defense lawyer needs to be able to examine the evidence and discuss your options with you in order to pursue the best solution. If you’ve been accused of committing a theft in Seminole County, reach out to The Law Office of David A. Webster, P.A. today by calling (407) 326-0650 or filling out an online form.