Florida Petit Theft Laws and Penalties
Theft in Florida is punishable as either a misdemeanor or a felony. The distinction lies in the value of the stolen property. A person who steals property valued at less than $300.00 commits petit theft. Petit (taken from the word for “small” in French) theft in Florida is a misdemeanor in either the first-degree or second-degree. Shoplifting is called “retail theft” in Florida.
The crime of theft may be found in Florida Statutes Section 812.014. Section 812.014 defines theft as knowingly obtaining, using, endeavoring to obtain or use, on a temporary or permanent basis, depriving a person of the right to use the property or to derive a benefit from using the property taken. Alternatively, theft occurs when a person uses property to the detriment of its owner when the person had no authority to use the stolen property.
Theft is a specific intent crime, meaning that the government must prove that the accused had the specific intent to deprive the property owner of the right to enjoy the property. Additionally, the government must prove that the person accused of theft must intend to steal.
A hypothetical factual scenario illustrates the finer point of intent to deprive and intent to steal. The hypothetical involves a man leaving a restaurant and taking a coat off the rack and walking out. However, there were two identical coats on the rack, and the man took the wrong one accidentally. In that scenario, the man who took the wrong coat is not criminally responsible for taking the wrong coat because he did not have the intent to deprive the owner of the coat permanently. However, the analysis could change if the mistaken coat contained a wallet with identification of the true owner.
Degrees of Petit Theft
When a person steals property valued at more than $100.00 but less than $300.00, then the person has committed petit theft in the first degree. Petit theft in the first degree may be punished by incarceration in the county jail for up to one year. The court must impose a definite sentence if the person must be sent to jail. Additionally, the court could impose a fine not to exceed $1,000.00. Petit theft in the first degree is a first-degree misdemeanor under Florida law.
Stolen property valued at less than $100.00 is petit theft in the second degree. Second-degree theft is a second-degree misdemeanor. A second-degree misdemeanor committed in Florida may be punished by being committed to the county jail for a definite term not exceeding 60 days. Furthermore, the judge could penalize the defendant by assessing a fine of not more than $500.00.
Prosecutors are taught to seek the most severe charge against the accused for which probable cause exists. Therefore, prior convictions of theft could allow prosecutors to file charges for theft as subsequent offenses. Charging theft as a subsequent offense allows the state’s attorney to prosecute the case as a first-degree misdemeanor. Additionally, two prior theft convictions would allow the prosecutor to seek felony charges in the third degree.
Collateral Consequences of a Conviction for Petit Theft
Convictions for theft under Florida law could impose additional penalties upon a person beyond those contained in the criminal theft statute. The penalties are civil by nature and not criminal. One of the collateral consequences of a theft conviction in Florida relates to one’s driver’s license. Any person convicted of theft in Florida could have his or her license suspended for a first offense. License suspension is mandatory for subsequent offenses of theft.
The suspension is capped at six months for the first time the Florida Department of Highway Safety suspends the convicted offender’s driver’s license. A person convicted of theft for a second time faces a period of license suspension not to exceed more than one year. A person under 18-years-of-age who is alleged to commit theft could face a license suspension instead of being committed to the Department of Juvenile Justice, or other sanction if the person has never been convicted of theft previously.
Florida law imposes civil liability on the person convicted of theft. Under Florida law, the person convicted of theft (or a parent or guardian of a person under 18-years-of-age) could be found liable for the loss to the victim. The victim could claim money damages for three-times the value of the stolen property or $200.00. Moreover, the victim of theft could seek an award for attorney’s fees and costs of litigation.
The victim must follow a specific procedure to win civil damages for theft. The victim of the theft must file a demand letter upon the accused thief at least 30 days before filing a civil lawsuit in court. The accused thief could avoid civil liability by paying the sum demanded by the victim. The victim must provide a release from liability in writing to the alleged offender. Payment of a civil debt is not necessarily an admission of guilt, but it could help resolve the criminal case with a disposition that does not result in a conviction. You must consult with an experienced petit theft defense lawyer in Florida before making any statements about allegations made against you.
Finally, any conviction for a criminal offense in any court in the U.S., even for petit theft, could result in adverse immigration consequences. Any non-citizen convicted of petit theft in Florida might allow the government to seek removal proceedings, deny citizenship, or deny re-entry into the U.S.
Shoplifting Offenses in Florida
Shoplifting is usually charged as a petit theft offense in Florida, provided that the value of the property does not exceed $300.00. If the value of the stolen property exceeds $300.00, then the case will be charged as a felony.
The penalties for shoplifting, also called retail theft, are the same as petit theft unless the offender was once previously convicted for shoplifting. In that case, Florida Statutes Section 812.015(2) of the Florida Statutes requires the court to punish the offender more harshly than if the crime was a first offense. The judge could order the accused to pay a larger fine and order the accused to perform community service as a component of the punishment for shoplifting.