In Florida, a theft is a felony offense, known as grand theft, if the value of the property stolen was $300 or more. If the value of the property is significantly higher, the offense can be a second degree felony or a first degree felony depending on the circumstances. If the value of the property is less than $300, the offense is a misdemeanor. Therefore, when someone commits a theft, the level of the crime and how serious it is depends heavily on the value of the property stolen. It is up to the state to prove that value beyond a reasonable doubt. If the state cannot prove the value of the property is $300 or more, the offense will be a misdemeanor even if it seems obvious that the property is more valuable.
For example, in a recent theft case near Jacksonville, Florida, the defendant stole some used fencing material from a business. The fencing material was old and had not been in use recently, so the business did not know its value or what they paid for it. At the trial, the state did not present any evidence of the market value of the fencing but did have someone from a hardware store testify that the replacement value of the fencing was $450. Based on that testimony, the defendant was convicted of grand theft.
The criminal defense attorney appealed the grand theft conviction and won. According to the Florida theft statute, the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt what the market value of the stolen property was at the time it was stolen. If for some legitimate reason the state cannot determine the market value at the time of the theft, the state can rely on the replacement value of the property near the time of the offense. In this case, the state did not attempt to prove the market value of the stolen property. The state also did not establish why they were unable to prove the market value. Without such proof of why they could not determine market value, the state was not permitted to use replacement value instead. Additionally, the witness who testified about replacement value did not adequately prove replacement value. The evidence of replacement value has to relate to similar property around the time of the theft. The state must have some evidence of the condition of the property when it was stolen and/or how new the property was. For instance, if used fencing material was stolen some time ago, the state cannot just being in a witness to say what new fencing would cost today. The state must offer evidence of what used fencing materials would cost similar to what was stolen.