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Think petty theft is no big deal? Think again

Because of its name, people make think petty theft, or "petit theft" as Florida law calls it, is something small. If you are charged with petit theft, however, the ramifications may be larger than you thought. Not only are the penalties and sentences hefty in some cases, but Florida law can enhance a petty theft charge into a felony under certain criteria. Before you know it, you could be fighting a felony charge.

Petit theft is defined as stealing property valued at $300 or less. Petit theft of the second degree is stealing property valued at less than $100. Stealing property valued between $100 and $300 is petit theft of the first degree. Petit theft includes stealing from another person, or shoplifting from a store. Petit theft of the second degree is prosecuted as a second degree misdemeanor, with a sentence of imprisonment for up to sixty days and a maximum fine of $500. But if the property you stole has a value between $100 to $300, and you stole the property from a place other than a dwelling or a home, the charge increases to petit theft in the first degree.

Petit theft becoming a felony

If you have a prior conviction for petit theft, the state may prosecute your next offense as a first degree misdemeanor. This greatly increases the penalties. You may have a sentence of up to one year in prison and a fine up to $1,000. Two or more prior convictions for petit theft allows the state to charge your next offense as a third degree felony. Jumping your charge up to felony increases the possible sentence to up to five years in prison and a fine up to $5,000. Your petty theft becoming a third degree felony has the same punishment as grand theft in the third degree.

Stealing a stop sign is a felony in Florida

Stealing certain items is automatically a felony charge in Florida. If you are the type to have friends who dare you to do things like steal a stop sign, this may cause you to think twice.

You could be facing charges of grand theft, a third-degree felony, if you are accused of stealing any of the following items:

• Any stop sign
• A firearm
• A motor vehicle
• Any commercially farmed animal, a bee colony of a registered beekeeper, or an aquaculture species raised at a certified aquaculture facility
• Any fire extinguisher
• Any citrus fruit consisting of 2,000 or more individual pieces of fruit
• Signs from a designated construction site
• Anhydrous ammonia
• Any amount of controlled substance

Your defense for a theft charge

In the legal system, the prosecutor has to establish that you intended to steal property that was not yours. If a prosecutor cannot prove that, your defense is stronger. You had to have criminal intent at the time you stole something in order for Florida state law to count it as theft. You also have a valid defense if you can claim:

Right or ownership of property: if you can show that the property you took was yours, or you had a claim to it, you will typically need to provide evidence supporting that.

Intoxication: if you are able to show that you were intoxicated and unable to form the required intent to steal, you may have a viable defense. Intoxication can include being under the influence of alcohol, chemicals or drugs.

Return of property: although returning stolen property does not prevent charges, doing so can paint a more sympathetic image to the prosecutor who could possibly offer a plea deal or reduce penalties. Some have successfully used returning property as a defense by showing they had the intent to return the property when they took it, claiming they were only borrowing the property.

A criminal defense attorney can help answer questions specific to your situation. Although it can be overwhelming and frightening to face possible penalties greater than you imagined, having a criminal defense attorney by your side can help you uphold your legal rights, and get you the legal help you deserve.

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