If you or a loved one has been arrested or charged with petit theft (also known as a petty theft charge), it is critical to obtain legal representation from an experienced Miami petit theft attorney as soon as possible to ensure that your rights are protected. You need the counsel of an experienced criminal defense lawyer to guide you through the process and maximize your chances of resolving your case with a favorable outcome.
Most of our clients charged with petit theft are people without a criminal record, whether they be professionals, students, tourists, or normal working people. Some of our clients have been falsely accused. In those cases, we aggressively defend them in criminal court and sometimes seek a civil settlement from the store for the false arrest claim. Most of our petty theft clients, however, were attempting to steal when loss
prevention officers detained them. A large percentage of our clients are very ashamed and embarrassed. To make matters worse, they are oftentimes unable to explain their actions and mercilessly beat themselves up trying to understand what happened. Our Miami petit theft attorneys strive to minimize both the legal and emotional consequences of a petit theft charge to help our clients to put the case behind them and move on with their professional and personal lives.
Possible Punishments if You are Convicted of Petit Theft
Petit theft is the most common of all property crimes. Oftentimes, petit theft is the criminal charge associated with shoplifting, also known as retail theft. Like most theft crimes, the severity of the charge is based on the value of the alleged stolen property. Under Florida law, when someone is accused of shoplifting from a store and the value of the allegedly stolen merchandise is less than $750.00, then the person is typically charged with petit theft, a misdemeanor criminal charge. If the value of the merchandise is more than $750.00 or more, then the person is charged with grand theft, a felony. This issue of value can be extremely important. Being accused of stealing merchandise worth $749.99 versus merchandise worth $750.00 can mean the difference between facing a maximum punishment of one year in jail and five years in state prison. It’s important to note that in certain cases, even if the value of the item would make it a petit theft crime, some types of stolen items can be categorized as grand theft, nonetheless. Also, petit theft becomes a third-degree felony if the alleged offender has previously been convicted of theft offenses two or more times.
Florida Statute § 812.014 divides misdemeanor theft crimes into degrees. The penalties below are the maximum punishments (It is very unlikely that you would be sentenced to the maximum punishment or even receive a conviction if you hire a competent petit theft lawyer):
First-Degree Petit Theft (Less than $750 but $100 or more) – maximum punishment is 364 days in the county jail (first-degree misdemeanor).
Second-DegreePetit Theft (less than $100.00) – maximum punishment is 60 days in jail (second-degree misdemeanor).
A person convicted of a petit theft offense can also receive a driver’s license suspension for up to six months in jail for a first conviction and a suspension of up to one year on a second petit theft conviction. First-degree misdemeanor charges can be filed against an alleged offender who has previously been convicted of petit theft, regardless of the value of the property involved.
Elements of a Petit Theft Charge
Florida law requires prosecutors to prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt to secure a conviction for petit theft:
A defendant obtained, used, or attempted to obtain the property of another knowingly and unlawfully
By doing so, the defendant intended to temporarily or permanently either (1) take away the owner’s right to use the property, and any benefits from it or (2) appropriate the property to his or her own use or to the use of another person who was not entitled to use it.
It’s not enough for the prosecution to establish that the defendant took the item. The prosecutor must also prove that the defendant had the specific intent to deprive the owner of the property. For example, a person may borrow something under the mistaken assumption that they had permission from the owner.
Defenses to a Petit Theft Offense
False or mistaken accusations
Mere presence at the scene
The property was taken or possessed with the consent of the owner
Equal or greater ownership interest in alleged stolen property
Taking of alleged stolen property was in good faith
Defendant abandoned the attempt to commit theft
An experienced theft crime attorney can give you the legal advice you need to make choose your best defense. If you are a first-time offender, your best option may be to participate in a diversion program rather than fight your case.