In Florida, everyone understands that stealing items from a store is a crime. However, what may not be clear is that the conduct may be a misdemeanor or felony depending on the value of the item(s) stolen. Even less clear may be how that value is determined. This can be a critical issue in a defendant’s theft case because, in all likelihood, it is going to be much easier and much better to resolve a case in misdemeanor court than felony court. Misdemeanor crimes in Florida are those crimes that can result in a punishment of 12 months in jail or less. Most often, misdemeanor crimes such as petit theft result in no jail time, although it depends on the circumstances of the case, the defendant’s criminal history and other factors. Felony crimes in Florida are crimes that can result in a punishment of more than 12 months in prison. Felony prosecutors and felony judges routinely determine that defendants in their courtrooms deserve incarceration. Additionally, felony convictions come with the loss of certain rights that are not applicable in misdemeanor cases.
In Florida, the crime of shoplifting or theft is a misdemeanor crime if the value of the property is less than $300. If the value of the property is $300 or more, it is a third degree felony, and the crime becomes more serious as the value of the property increases. The value of the property in retail theft cases means the sale price of the merchandise at the time the property was taken. This is normally determined by the price on the price tag when the property is taken. Sometimes the police and/or prosecutors are confused about this. This can work to a defendant’s advantage or disadvantage. For instance, a clothing store may mark up the value of an item significantly. A shirt that sells for $100 may have a market value or wholesale value of much less. However, if a person steals three of them, he/she may be facing a felony theft charge even though the store paid much less than $300 for the three shirts.
On the other hand, consider a case we had several months ago at Shorstein, Lasnetski & Gihon, LLC here in Jacksonville. In December, a client went to a department store and stole several items. The loss prevention officer stopped him/her and recovered the stolen items. To determine the value of the stolen items, the loss prevention officer went to the store computer to determine the price at which the items normally sold. Using those figures, the total value came to close to $400, and our client was arrested for felony theft. Everyone knows that department stores advertise huge sales in December and mark the merchandise down significantly during that time. We checked the sale prices for similar items and determined that the sale prices on these items totaled closer to $250, which would make the crime a misdemeanor. The arresting officer simply relied on the inflated value figures from the store’s loss prevention officer, but a little investigation revealed the true figures applicable in a retail theft case were much lower. That was the difference between a felony charge and a misdemeanor charge for the client.