Florida just enacted a new theft statute that raises the threshold for first-degree petit theft from $300 to $750 (2019 HB 7125). The prosecutor has the burden of proving the fair market value of the stolen property.
Despite this change in the threshold, Florida still has very harsh penalties for theft crimes. Any theft crime, from misdemeanor shoplifting to a felony grand theft, is severe because it is considered a “crime of dishonesty.”
A conviction for any crime of dishonesty has serious collateral consequences that can hurt you when you apply for a job, during a background check, or if you ever testify in a court of law. For example, under the Florida Fingerprint Requirement, anyone found guilty of theft (even petit theft or shoplifting) must have their fingerprints taken in court.
The judge must affix a written judgment to the file, which becomes a public record. Even if you are not convicted, your name can go into a national database used by employers when they conduct background checks.
Additionally, prior convictions for theft can increase the sentence if you are caught re-offending. In certain cases, any subsequent charges can be enhanced based on a prior conviction.
Most individuals charged with theft are considered “first-time offenders” with no prior record.
Attorneys for Theft Crimes in Tampa, FL
The attorneys at Sammis Law Firm have represented women and men on various theft charges. We fight each charge to protect our client at each stage of the case.
If you have been arrested for any felony or misdemeanor theft charge, contact an attorney at the Sammis Law Firm. Scheduled a free consultation on the phone or in the office with one of the four criminal defense attorneys in the firm.
We represent clients for theft crimes throughout Hillsborough County and the surrounding counties in the Tampa Bay area, including Pinellas County, Pasco County, Hernando County, and Polk County, FL.
Call (813) 250-0500 today.
Protecting Yourself After a Theft Accusation in Florida
False accusations for theft offenses can occur for numerous reasons. If you have been falsely accused of any theft offense, you should act quickly to have an attorney address the issue before the State Attorney’s Office makes a filing decision.
For instance, in some cases, a shoplifting charge can result from an accidental taking when the person became distracted. Even in those rare cases in which the law enforcement officer believes that the shopper took the item by mistake, the officer will usually proceed with making the arrest.
An attorney can best present your side of the story to law enforcement, the alleged victim, and the state attorney’s office in an attempt to convince them not to go forward with a prosecution even days after the incident.
In other cases, theft or shoplifting is a symptom of an underlying psychological problem that can best be addressed outside of the criminal justice system. By being proactive in seeking counseling, you may be able to show the court, prosecutor, and alleged victim that you do not deserve a criminal record or a jail sentence.
Good Faith Defense to Theft Crimes in Florida
If you had a good faith basis for taking the property, you might be entitled to a standard jury instruction on the “good faith” defense. The jury instruction provides: “[i]t is a defense to the charge of theft if the defendant had an honest, good-faith belief that he had the right to possess the property.” The standard jury instruction on good faith was approved in 2016. See In re Standard Jury Instructions in Crim. Cases — Rep. No. 2015-04, 190 So. 3d 614, 623-24 (Fla. 2016).
In other words, an affirmative defense can be raised if you had a good faith belief that you were entitled to take the property and had no intent to deprive the victim of the property. An attorney’s failure to request this kind of instruction at trial might be grounds for an appeal requesting a new trial.
For example, in Capiro v. State, 97 So. 3d 298, 300-01 (Fla. 4th DCA 2012), a case was reversed and remanded for a new trial on the grand theft over $100,000 conviction after counsel failed to request a good faith instruction, which was central to the defendant’s case. The court found that the defendant was prejudiced because the jury was not instructed on the law applicable to the defendant’s only defense.
Likewise, in Aversano v. State, 966 So. 3d 493, 495-96 (Fla. 4th DCA 2007), the case was reversed and remanded for a new trial after a grand theft over $20,000 but less than $100,000 conviction when the trial counsel failed to request a jury instruction on either a good faith defense or advice of counsel defense which were supported by undisputed evidence at trial and was central to the defendant’s case.
Shoplifting under Florida Law
Petit theft crimes for shoplifting are the most commonly prosecuted crimes in Florida. The criminal offense of shoplifting or retail theft can be charged as either a misdemeanor (“petit theft”) or a felony (“grand theft”).
Any theft offense, whether a misdemeanor or a felony, is considered a “crime of dishonesty” or an impeachable offense. In many cases, an innocent mistake can become a criminal accusation even for a person with no prior criminal record.
Most of our clients charged with petit theft are women with no prior record. In many of these cases, our client is terrified about the prosecution’s impact on their family or employment opportunities in the future.
We are experienced in working with women to defend them against an accusation of shoplifting or petit theft in Hillsborough County, Pasco County, Pinellas County, Polk County, Hernando County, and Manatee County, FL.
Each county has different diversion programs that may be available for certain “first offender” theft charges. Certain programs may require you to admit wrongdoing or give up your right to expunge your criminal record.
The retail store may threaten to sue you for civil damages related to the accusation of theft. An experienced attorney to guide you through the process is important in any shoplifting or petit theft case in Florida.
Click here for more information on Shoplifting / Petit Theft / Petit Theft (less than $750).
Shoplifting or Retail Theft Penalties
The maximum penalty for retail theft or shoplifting accusation depends on the item’s value.
- If the value of the item taken was:
- less than $100, then the offense will be charged as a petit theft in the second degree, which is punishable by up to sixty (60) days in the county jail and a $500 fine plus court costs;
- more than $750, then the offense will be charged as a petit theft in the first degree, which is punishable by up to 12 months (364 days) in the county jail and a $1,000.00 fine.
- Suppose the individual has ever been convicted of any two other theft offenses. In that case, the person can be charged with Felony Petit Theft regardless of the property’s value, which is a third-degree felony punishable by five (5) years in Florida State Prison, and a five thousand ($5,000.00) fine plus court costs.
- If the value of the item taken from a retail establishment was more than $750, then the offense can be charged as Felony Retail Theft, a third-degree felony.
- For any theft from a dwelling, you can be charged with grand theft if the property was taken from a dwelling is worth more than $100.00 but less than $750.00.
What are the new threshold amounts for thefts in Florida? The $300 threshold for first-degree misdemeanor petit theft was raised to $750 effective October 1, 2019.
The new legislation also increases the period for which the property value taken during multiple thefts may be aggregated to determine the offense level from 48 hours to 30 days.
This new crime has a 30-day aggregation period under which any property taken or placed within such period can be aggregated to determine the offense level of the crime.
For example, for the second-degree felony version of retail theft, a 30-day aggregation period applies to determine whether the value of the property taken over a series of retail thefts exceeds $3,000.
Employee Theft or Embezzlement in Florida
The criminal offense of employee theft or embezzlement is treated harshly under Florida law. Like any theft offense, it is considered a crime of dishonesty. In many cases, the employee has worked for the company for years, has no criminal history, and has taken over $100,000.00.
Without proper representation, prison sentences are common for these offenses, even if the employee has no other criminal record. If your employer suspects you of theft, talk with an experienced criminal defense attorney before making any statement to the employer or any law enforcement officer.
We have represented individuals accused of taking from a charity, non-profit organization, or business. In some cases, the amount taken has been more than $100,000.00.
In these cases, the charity, non-profit organization, or business often hires an attorney to pursue a civil lawsuit to recover restitution under the civil theft statute in either state or federal court.
We help our clients settle the civil and criminal parts of the case for the best possible terms.
Click here for more information on employee theft or embezzlement charges.
Penalties for Theft Offenses Depend on the Value of the Item Stolen
Florida law provides for different types of punishments depending on the value of the item taken. Click here to read more about grand theft charges.
Grand Theft in the First Degree:
Suppose the value of the property stolen is $100,000 or more. In that case, the offense will be classified as a Grand Theft in the First Degree, a First Degree Felony punishable by a maximum sentence of 30 years in Florida State Prison, and a fine of up to $10,000.00.
Grand Theft in the Second Degree:
Suppose the value of the property stolen is more than $20,000 but less than $100,000.00. In that case, the offense will be classified as a Grand Theft in the Second Degree, a Second Degree Felony punishable by a maximum sentence of 15 years in Florida State Prison, and a fine of up to $10,000.00.
Grand Theft in the Third Degree:
Suppose the value of the property stolen is more than $750 but less than $20,000.00. In that case, the offense will be classified as a Grand Theft in the Third Degree, a Third Degree Felony punishable by a maximum sentence of 5 years in Florida State Prison and a $5,000.00 fine.
Even if the property’s value is less than $750, the offense may still be a third-degree felony if the stolen item is a gun, rifle, firearm, stop sign, or other property listed below.
Effective on October 1, 2019, Florida’s new theft statute included a provision that the theft of a fire extinguisher qualifies as a third-degree felony regardless of the actual value of the item, but only when the fire extinguisher is actually installed in a building for the purpose of fire prevention or control at the time of the taking.
The new legislation specifically excludes the theft of a fire extinguisher from the inventory at a point-of-sale business as a third-degree felony. Still, the theft offense level will be determined by the property’s actual value.
Read more about theft of a firearm in Florida.
If the person charged has ever been previously convicted of any two theft offenses, then the person may be charged with a Third Degree Felony. Approximately 3,000 people are currently incarcerated in Florida for felony theft convictions.
More than 30,000 people are on state community supervision for a felony theft crime in Florida.
Petit Theft in the First Degree:
If the property’s value is more than $100 but less than $750, then the offense will be classified as a Petit Theft in the First Degree punishable by 12 months in the county jail and a $1,000.00 fine.
Petit Theft in the Second Degree:
If the property’s value is less than $100.00, then the person may be charged with Petit Theft in the Second Degree, which is punishable by sixty (60) days in the county jail and a $500.00 fine.
Obtaining Property for a Worthless Check
The criminal offense of obtaining property by a worthless check is common in Florida. Hiring a private attorney to handle the accusation can result in the charges being dropped by the prosecutor before the warrant is ever served so that you do not have to go into custody.
Florida Statute Section 832.05 defines the Florida crime of Obtaining Property for a Worthless Check, Drafts, and Debit Card orders, defined under Florida law to include a situation in which an individual writes a check to obtain some property or service from another individual when the person who wrote the check knows that there are insufficient funds to cover the check.
Common defenses to the charge of obtaining property by a worthless check include the following:
- You Did Not Know the Check Would Bounce – A common defense to the criminal charge of obtaining property with a worthless check involves the “knowingly” requirement. Many people find who are charged with this worthless check offense in Florida are not guilty because they were in a difficult financial situation and wrote the check thinking that there were sufficient funds in the account but then later found out the check bounced because of account mismanagement or some other mistake that often occurs with someone under financial stress or does not properly balance their checkbook.
- The Person who Accepted the Check Knew or Should Have Known the Check was Worthless – It is a defense to the charge if the person accepting the check is expressly notified before accepting the check or has reason to believe that there are insufficient funds in the bank to cover the check at the moment it is accepted. For instance, if you asked the person accepting the check to hold or delay depositing the check for even a brief period or was given any other reason to believe that the check would not be honored, then the person is not guilty of the criminal offense under Florida law.
- Post-Dated Checks – It is a defense to the charge if the person accepting the check accepts a “post-dated check” because the fact that the check is post-dated indicates to the person accepting the check that there are insufficient funds in the account at the moment the check is accepted.
- Stopping Payment with Intent to Defraud – If the person who issued the check subsequently “stopped payment” on the check, then the offense can not be prosecuted under this section of Florida law.
- Forged Check – Likewise, a forged check cannot be prosecuted under this section, although felony charges can be filed under Florida’s forgery statute.
The statute specifically provides that the person who accepts the check does not have reason to believe that the person who presents the check does not have sufficient funds SOLELY because the person paying with the check has previously issued a worthless check to him or her.
The statute also specifically states that payment of the dishonored check, draft, bill of exchange, or debit card order does not constitute a defense or grounds for dismissal of the charges.
The offense of obtaining a worthless check is a first-degree misdemeanor in Florida when the check is for less than $150.00, punishable by up to 12 months in the county jail.
If the check is written for $150.00 or more, the offense is a third-degree felony punishable by up to five (5) years in Florida State Prison.
Types of Theft Crimes in Florida
Under Florida law, many different types of theft charges can be brought by the prosecutor, including:
- Dealing in Stolen Property – Read more about dealing or trafficking in stolen property as defined by Florida Statutes Section 812.019. This second-degree felony alleges that a person traffics in the property he knows or should know was stolen.
- False Information to Pawn Broker – Florida Statute § 539.001(8)(b)8 makes it a crime to provide false verification of ownership or false information of identification to a pawnbroker.
- Failure to Returned Leased Property – If you rent or lease property and then fail to return the property after proper notice has been sent, then you can be prosecuted under Florida Statute Section 812.155 for hiring, leasing, or obtaining personal property or equipment with the intent to defraud or failing to return hired or leased personal property or equipment. Visit this section to find information from the State Attorney’s Office for the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit in Tampa, FL, and from the Tampa Police Department and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office on their requirements before a case will be investigated or prosecuted under this section.
- Scheme to Defraud – If you enter a plea to this crime of dishonesty, then you will not be eligible to seal the criminal record. A scheme to defraud is defined under Florida law as an ongoing and continuing series of acts intended to defraud someone by obtaining something of value through fraudulent or false promises, representations, or by intentionally misrepresenting some future act.
- Robbery – Under Section 812.13, Florida Statutes, the term “Robbery” is defined as the taking of property which may be the subject of larceny from a person or custody of another when in the course of the taking, there is the use of putting in fear, assault, violence or force.
- Burglary – Under Section 810.02, Florida Statute, the term “Burglary” is defined as “surreptitiously entering or remaining in a dwelling, structure or conveyance to commit an offense (other than trespass) inside of the dwelling, structure or conveyance at a time when the defendant is not licensed or invited to enter or remain, and the area is not open to the public.”
Conspiring to Commit Retail Theft with the Intent to Sell
New legislation in Florida just made it a separate crime to conspire to commit retail theft with the intent to sell the stolen property for monetary gain when the person who commits the theft subsequently places the stolen property in the control of another person in exchange for consideration.
The new crime of conspiring to commit retail theft to subsequently place the stolen property in the control of another person also qualifies as a second-degree felony if the value of the property taken, aggregated over 30 days, exceeds $3,000.
Theft When the Victim is 65 Years of Age or Older
Under Section 812.0145, F.S., enhanced penalties might apply when the victim of the theft is 65 years of age or older. Subsection 2 reclassifies the degree of theft when the victim of the theft is a person 65 years of age or older. The reclassification is based on the value of the funds, assets, or property involved in the theft including:
|Severity Ranking||Felony Degree||Value Threshold|
|Level 7||First degree felony||Value is $50,000 or more|
|Level 5||Second degree felony||Value is $10,000 or more, but less than $50,000|
|Level 3||Third degree felony||Value is $300 or more, but less than $10,000|
As required in Section 812.0145(2), F.S., the perpetrator must know or have reason to believe that the victim was 65 years of age or older.
In addition to any fine or sentence which may be imposed, a conviction for theft of more than $1,000 from a person 65 years of age or older requires the court to award restitution to the victim and order the defendant to perform up to 500 hours of community service work.
Read more about crimes for financially exploiting the elderly in Florida.
National Organization for Shoplifting Prevention NASP – Nationwide, a non-partisan coalition working to address shoplifting prevention and juvenile justice issues, provides rehabilitative, educational programs for adults or juveniles with a pending court case or after a court order.
Cleptomaniacs and Shoplifters Anonymous CASA – Treatment and recovery through counseling and support groups, including common misconceptions about the connection between shoplifting and kleptomania and other mental health issues.
Finding a Theft Lawyer in Hillsborough County, FL
If you have been arrested or accused of any theft charge, including shoplifting, scheme to defraud, fraud, theft, employee theft, or any similar offense, contact an experienced theft attorney in Tampa, FL.
From a case involving a taking of less than $100 to more than $100,000, let us put our experience to work for you to help you obtain the best possible result.
Visit our main office in downtown Tampa, FL, just a few blocks from the courthouse. We also have an office in New Port Richey, FL, across from the West Pasco Judicial Center courthouse and in Clearwater near the Criminal Justice Center (CJC) courthouse.
The criminal defense attorneys at Sammis Law Firm are experienced in fighting these criminal charges at the courthouse in Tampa and the surrounding areas of Tampa Bay.
We represent clients in Tampa and Plant City in Hillsborough County, St. Petersburg or Clearwater in Pinellas County, Lakeland or Bartow in Polk County, and New Port Richey or Dade City in Pasco County, Florida.
Call (813) 250-0500 today for a free and confidential consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney.
This article was last updated on Friday, April 21, 2023.