In Florida To Convict a Person of Theft, State Must Prove Intent to Steal When Property is Taken

It seems obvious, but to prove a theft case in Florida, the state has to prove that the defendant intended to steal the property at the time he/she took the property. This is fairly obvious in most theft cases, but it can become a problem for the state when a defendant is charged with theft in a commercial context. For instance, consider a case where the alleged victim hires a defendant to renovate his home and pays the defendant a certain amount in advance. If the defendant starts the project but fails to complete it and refuses to return the money, is this a crime of theft in Florida?

It depends. There are situations where a person pays another to do something in advance and the work does not get done but for reasons beyond the defendant’s control, or at least for reasons not anticipated when the money was taken. The defendant’s materials could have been stolen, the price of materials could have gone up so that the original terms were no longer feasible or any other unforeseen problem could arise. In those cases, if the work was not done due to unanticipated circumstances, it would not be a theft. The victim would have to seek recourse in the civil courts.

A person can be charged and convicted of theft for taking money and promising to do something in the future, but the state would have to prove that the defendant did not intend to perform the service at the time he/she took the money. This can be difficult in a business context. These cases are often best left up to the civil courts where the victim can sue the defendant for breach of contract. In a criminal case, if the defendant started the work or has a valid excuse as to why he/she could not perform the work, it is likely not a criminal theft case.

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