Definition of Petit Theft

The definition of misdemeanor petit theft can encompass any scenario where person steals or endeavors to steal property from a person or business when the value of the property is less than $300. The theft does not have to occur in a store.

To prove the crime of Petit Theft at trial, the prosecution must establish the following two elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. The defendant knowingly and unlawfully obtained or used (or endeavored to obtain or use) the property of the alleged victim;
  2. The defendant did so with the intent, either permanently or temporarily, to: (a) deprive the victim of [his] [her] right to the property or any benefit from it, or (b) appropriate the victim’s property to the defendant’s own use or to the use of any person not entitled to it.

Penalties for Petit Theft

In Florida, petit theft is classified a second degree misdemeanor, which can result in up to sixty days in jail. A second offense can be charged as a first degree misdemeanor, and is punishable by up to one year imprisonment, and will result in a loss of your driving privileges. Under Section 812.0155, Florida statutes, a court may suspend a person’s driver’s license for a period of six months where the person is adjudicated guilty of misdemeanor petit theft. The court must order the suspension of driving privileges for a period of one year where a person is adjudicated guilty of a second offense.

More importantly, petit theft is a “crime of dishonesty,” which carries with it a negative stigma that may permanently bar a person from employment, professional licenses, and acceptance into colleges.

Attempting or Endeavoring to Steal

Under Section 812.014(1), Florida Statutes, a person commits theft if he or she knowingly obtains or uses, or endeavors to obtain or use, the property of another with the appropriate criminal intent. In interpreting this definition, Florida appellate courts have held that the crime of attempted theft does not exist in because, by including the words, “endeavors to obtain or use,” the legislature evinced an intent to define “theft” as including the mere attempt to commit theft. Thus, a completed theft crime is fully proven when an attempt, along with the requisite intent, is established. Longval v. State, 914 So. 2d 1098, 2005 (Fla. 4th DCA 2005). There is no requirement that a defendant pass all points of sale or actually leave the store or place of business.

Proof Used at Trial

For the charge of theft or retail theft, the prosecution will use a variety of tools to prove its case. They may rely on the testimony of a Jacksonville loss prevention officer, video surveillance (video tape), written statements of the accused, admissions of the accused, testimony of other customers who witnessed the incident, receipts and other business records, testimony of co-defendants, and introduction of the items taken or photographs of the items taken.

Petit Theft Defenses

While the facts of every case differ, a Jacksonville petit theft defense lawyer can often raise defenses on your behalf to contest a charge of petit theft or retail theft (shoplifting). Examples include, but are not limited to: (1) mistaken identity, (2) mistaken accusations, (3) poor quality video, (4) false accusations by loss prevention officers, (5) customer mistakenly leaving the store, (6) customer forgetting about items placed in a bag or stroller, (7) being set up by a co-defendant, (8) items not found in the possession of the accused, (9) exiting the store for purposes other than to steal, (10) price tags being altered or removed by previous customers, and (11) over zealous prosecution by stores and loss prevention officers.

In cases where the allegation is that the defendant endeavored (i.e. attempted) to steal, the defense of voluntary “abandonment” may be available. This is also referred to as “withdrawal” or “renunciation.” For this type of defense to apply, the evidence must show that the accused abandoned his or her attempt to commit theft (or otherwise prevented its commission) under circumstances manifesting a complete and voluntary renunciation of his or her criminal purpose. See Fla. Stat. § 777.04(5)(a); Longval v. State, 914 So. 2d 1098, 1100 (Fla. 4th DCA 2005). For additional information on abandonment in the context of petit theft cases, visit ourAbandonment Theft Defense web page.

Pretrial Intervention for Petit Theft

A theft charge is a serious matter and not every case will have a viable defense. Fortunately, most counties in Florida offer “diversion” programs for a first arrest. A diversion program is an alternative means of disposing of a case without the necessity of a plea or a trial. It is an agreement between the accused and the Office of State Attorney whereby the State agrees to dismiss the case in exchange for the accused completing certain conditions within a specified period of time. These conditions often include community service, retail theft or financial responsibility classes, restitution payments, the payment of monthly program fees, and other requirements designed to “rehabilitate” the accused and ensure there are no future law violations. By resolving a case through this agreement, the case is “diverted” away from traditional court action.

Unfortunately, you can be disqualified or disenrolled from the diversion program if the alleged victim in the case (the store) is opposed to your participation in the program or if you have been previously convicted of a crime or have previously enrolled in a diversion program. Our Jacksonville criminal defense lawyer can discuss with you the requirements of pre-trial diversion where you are currently living. Even where the State Attorney’s Office declines you from the program, a criminal defense attorney can attempt negotiate on your behalf and request your enrollment. This is often the best way to resolve a theft case and protect your record and reputation.

If you have been accused of petit theft, retail theft, or shoplifting in Jacksonville, Florida, contact the attorneys at Hussein & Webber, PL for a free consultation.