Florida distinguishes between types of theft depending on the value of the allegedly stolen property. In this blog, we will review the elements of a theft crime in Florida and the distinction between petty theft and grand theft, as well as the respective penalties for each offense.
What Constitutes Theft in Florida?
Florida defines theft as knowingly obtaining, using, or attempting to obtain or use another’s property, with the intent to permanently or temporarily deprive the person of the property or convert the property to an unauthorized use (e.g. embezzlement or misappropriation).
An individual commits theft according to the state if they:
- knowingly obtain or use the property of another with the intent to either temporarily or permanently deprive the person of a right to the property; or
- appropriate the property to their own use or to the use of any person not entitled to use of the property.
Note that the term “property” is broader than it appears and might include real property, personal property, property rights and benefits, and public and private services.
Some common examples of theft could be:
- a person who walks by a restaurant table and pickpockets someone's wallet;
- a shoplifter who grabs a video game off the store shelf;
- a daughter who has control over an elderly parent’s bank account and misuses the money for her own personal gain; and
- a neighbor who splices cable lines to get free video channels.
In a theft case, the prosecutor must establish the defendant's specific criminal intent to take or use property belonging to another person. That is, the defendant must have intended to temporarily or permanently deprive the owner of possession or use of the property to be guilty of theft.
Petty Theft vs. Grand Theft
Florida state laws distinguish between petty theft (a misdemeanor) and grand theft (a felony). The type of theft is determined by the value of the allegedly stolen property.
Petty Theft Penalties
First degree petty theft occurs when the stolen property is valued between $100-$299. The penalties are up to 1 year in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. However, if the defendant is convicted twice of any theft crime, they could face a third degree felony charge.
Second degree petty theft is when the stolen property is valued below $100 and is punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.
Grand Theft Penalties
The value of property to be charged as grand theft is significantly higher than the property in petty theft cases. First degree grand theft occurs in the following scenarios:
- property valued at $100,000 or more;
- a semitrailer deployed by a law enforcement officer;
- cargo valued at more than $50,000 which has entered interstate or intrastate commerce;
- the offender uses a motor vehicle as an instrument of the crime; or
- any theft that causes more than $1,000 worth of damage to real or personal property.
- grand theft of the second degree that occurs during a declared state of emergency.
The maximum penalty for first degree grand theft is 30 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000.
Second degree grand theft occurs in the following situations:
- property valued between $20,000 and $99,999;
- property valued between $5,000 and $20,000 during a declared state of emergency (looting);
- cargo valued at less than $50,000 which has entered interstate or intrastate commerce; or
- emergency medical or law enforcement equipment valued at $300 or more.
The penalty for second degree grand theft is up to 15 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.
Lastly, third degree grand theft refers to the following stolen properties:
- any commercially farmed animal;
- installed fire extinguishers;
- more than 2,000 pieces of citrus fruit;
- property valued at $750 or more but less than $20,000;
- property valued between $100 and $750 and taken from in or around someone's home;
- motor vehicles (if it is used in the commission of a crime, it is first-degree grand theft);
- any property taken from a construction site;
- stop signs;
- anhydrous ammonia; or
- any amount of a controlled substance.
Third degree grand theft is punishable by up to 5 years in jail and a $5,000 fine.
An individual guilty of grand theft could face enhanced penalties, depending on the circumstances of their offense. Florida increases penalties for habitual felony offenses, repeat petty thefts, and thefts involving a victim age 65 or older.
For a third felony offense (a habitual felony offense), a court can impose an extended prison term double the original amount for a second or third degree felony, and a first degree felony can be punished by up to life in prison.
Those guilty of repeat petty thefts similarly face harsher sentencing. An offense that would ordinarily be classified as petty theft will be bumped up to a first-degree misdemeanor if the offender has previously been convicted of any theft offense, and 2 or more previous theft convictions will bump a petty theft offense up to a felony of the third degree.
Theft involving a victim age 65 or older carries the following enhanced penalties:
- Property valued between $300 and $10,000 – a felony in the third degree
- Property valued between $10,000 and $50,000 – a felony in the second degree
- Property valued at $50,000 or more – a felony in the first degree
Further, a person who steals more than $1,000 from an elderly victim must pay restitution and perform up to 500 hours of community service in addition to the standard jail time and fines.
Defending Against a Theft Charge
If you have been charged with theft, depending on the value of the allegedly stolen property, you could face misdemeanor charges for petty theft or felony charges for grand theft. An experienced attorney can argue effectively for your defense, such as proving your right to possess the property or that you were given consent by the property owner. In any case, do not hesitate to contact our attorneys at The Law Office of David A. Webster, P.A. for legal representation in your theft case.
Schedule your free consultation with The Law Office of David A. Webster, P.A. today.