From porch pirates to vehicle break-ins, theft and property crimes typically rises during the winter holidays. Homes filled with gifts and people carrying more cash make an ideal environment for criminals.
Once summer ends, theft crimes usually fall only to rise again in December. Some thefts are by people looking for ways to provide gifts to their families or pay off bills. There are more checks in the mailbox and packages on doorsteps, which makes crimes of opportunity too good for some to pass up.
The Sunshine State & Holiday Crime Spike
Florida has the distinction of having more crime in December than other states. According to Alarms.org, Florida’s crime score of 81.5 ranks the state well above the average nationwide score of 32.9. For perspective, the state with the second-worst crime rate during the holidays is New Mexico with a score of 41.0. Maine’s score of 18.9 is the lowest in the country.
Property crimes generally increase an average of 20% in the 12th month of the year. On the positive side, violent crimes such as murder do not usually rise.
Types of Theft Crimes in Florida
Florida law provides a general definition of theft:
“A person commits theft if he or she knowingly obtains or uses, or endeavors to obtain or to use, the property of another with intent to, either temporarily or permanently:
- Deprive the other person of a right to the property or a benefit from the property.
- Appropriate the property to his or her own use or to the use of any person not entitled to the use of the property.”
Most theft crimes are categorized as either grand theft or petit theft. The state also has laws regarding shoplifting, also called retail theft in Florida.
Retail theft is defined as “the taking possession of or carrying away of merchandise, property, money, or negotiable documents; altering or removing a label, universal product code, or price tag; transferring merchandise from one container to another; or removing a shopping cart, with intent to deprive the merchant of possession, use, benefit, or full retail value.”
The value of the property taken, and other circumstances determine how a theft crime is charged:
- Second-Degree Petit Theft: This is the least serious of the theft offenses. This is a misdemeanor and involves property valued at less than $100. A conviction can mean up to 60 days in jail and/or a $500 fine.
- First-Degree Petit Theft: While still a misdemeanor, this charge is a step higher than second-degree and is punishable by up to 1 year in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. The property taken is valued between $100 and $749.99.
- Third-Degree Grand Theft: This is a felony-level theft crime. This violation involves property valued at $750 or more but less than $20,000. A conviction on this charge can bring a sentence of up to 5 years in prison and/or a $5,000 fine.
- Second-Degree Grand Theft: This charge is typically reserved for thefts of property valued between $20,000 and $100,000, but there are some exceptions. This can also be charged if the property ($5,000 to $20,000) is looted during a declared state of emergency or a riot. Judges can issue sentences of up to 15 years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine.
- First-Degree Grand Theft: Anyone taking property valued at $100,000 or more can be charged at this level. Second-degree grand theft can be elevated to first-degree if the theft occurs during a declared state of emergency or riot. The most serious of theft crimes, first-degree grand theft penalties include up to 30 years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine.
Habitual offenders will be given stiffer penalties as will someone convicted of theft involving a victim aged 65 or older.
Retail theft/shoplifting is usually charged in accordance with the same property-value categories as petit theft and grand theft. While any specific shoplifting event may not equal much in value, multiple events within a 30-day period can be aggregated. Shoplifters who conspire with others to commit retail theft also face elevated penalties.
Defenses to Theft
If you are accused of theft, your attorney will evaluate the circumstances involving in the alleged offense and strategize your defense. Possible defenses to theft include:
- Lack of intent – you had a good faith basis that you owned the property in question.
- Legal right – You had a legal right to take or dispose of the property in question.
- Necessity or Duress – Necessity is a situation where your conduct cannot be avoided because it prevented a greater harm from happening and duress is a situation where you take the property of another because you are warding off a threat to yourself by a third party.
Accused of a Theft Crime? We Can Help
At Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Grossman, LLC, our law firm is dedicated to defending Floridians accused of crimes. Theft crimes – even misdemeanors – can mean losing your freedom. The mark on your criminal record can make it difficult to obtain federal student loans, be approved for housing, or retain your right to own a firearm.
If you are accused of a theft crime, contact our law office immediately. Our team will immediately dive into your case and create a strategy specific to you and the circumstances. We aim to get charges dropped and keep you from spending time behind bars. We are skilled negotiators and fierce defenders in the courtroom.
Arrests can happen 24/7, so we are available to help you day and night. When you need criminal legal defense, call (954) 280-8811.