Are you a Florida resident facing petit (or petty) theft charges? While the term “petit” derives from the French word for “small”—the consequences for this crime are anything but small. Depending on your circumstances, you can be charged with a misdemeanor or even a felony for committing petit theft—this means potentially facing jail or prison time, probation, fines, loss of your driver’s license, and a permanent criminal record.
If you’re facing such charges, your top priority should be securing the representation of a criminal defense attorney who can help you understand your legal options and safeguard your future—the attorney’s goal must be to get your charges either reduced or dismissed, and to assist you in avoiding severe, lifelong consequences.
Definition of Petit Theft
A person is considered to have committed petit theft when the value of the stolen property amounts to less than $300.
The Florida Statutes Section 812.014 defines theft as when a person 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
In other words, the crime of petit theft is the unlawful taking of property valued at less than $300 from another person.
Examples of Petit Theft
Shoplifting can be considered a form of petit theft but contrary to common belief, is not the only way to commit this crime. Examples of petit theft include:
- Stealing a clothing item from a store at the mall
- Switching out a price tag on an item for a lower price tag
- “Dining and dashing”—eating at a restaurant then leaving without paying for your meal
- Sneaking into a movie theater, arcade, or theme park without paying admission
- Borrowing an item from someone—then intentionally never returning it to them
- Stealing money from someone
- Splicing a neighbor’s cable lines to get free access to certain television channels they’re paying for
Firearms and Petit Theft
If a firearm is involved—for instance, if the police catch you stealing a $20 shirt at a retail store and find that you’re armed with a gun—the crime can be escalated from a petit theft to a grand theft.
In state court, the most serious type of theft charge is grand theft—which means it also carries more severe penalties than petit theft.
Penalties for Petit Theft
The following are penalties for petit theft in Florida, in order of least to most severe.
You are considered to have committed petit theft of the second degree if the property you stole values less than $100.
The following are possible penalties you can receive from a judge:
- Six months in jail
- Six months of probation
- A fine of up to $500
You are considered to have committed petit theft of the first degree if the property you stole values less than $750, but more than $100; or, you have a prior theft conviction.
The following are possible penalties you can receive from a judge:
- One year in jail
- One year of probation
- A fine of up to $1,000
You may be charged with a third-degree felony if you’re a repeat offender—meaning, you’ve been convicted of two or more petit thefts in the past.
- Five years in prison
In Florida, penalties are increased in the following scenarios:
- You have habitual felonies on your record
- You have repeat petit thefts on your record
- Your theft involved an elderly victim (age 65 or older)
Being charged with petit theft in Florida can lead to lasting repercussions, affecting your freedom to travel and ability to acquire education and/or employment.
Section 8.12.014(5)(b) of the Florida Statutes states that a person convicted of petit theft can have their driver’s license suspended for a period of six months to one year.
Petit theft is considered a “crime of dishonesty”—being charged with it can lead to a permanent criminal record, which can affect your ability to enroll in college, and procure employment or professional licenses.
Statute of Limitations for Petit Theft
Pursuant to section 812.035(10) of the Florida Statutes, a prosecution for petit theft can be initiated five years after the offense was committed. Put more simply, you can potentially go to trial for petit theft up to five years after you committed the crime.
Petit Theft and Diversion Programs
If this is your first time facing charges for committing petit theft, you may be able to have your charges dismissed entirely by having your attorney negotiate your participation in a diversion program.
While specifications regarding who qualifies for a diversion program vary by county in Florida, these programs typically range from three to eighteen months in duration.
In addition to completing a diversion program, a prosecutor may also require you to pay restitution (money owed to the victim of your crime) and complete community service.
It’s vital that you have an experienced attorney on your side to negotiate with the prosecution and judge to allow you to enroll in a diversion program. Granting yourself the possibility of having your record expunged—or “wiped clean”—of permanent charges by participating in such a program would grant you unparalleled relief and peace of mind.
Possible Defenses for Petit Theft Charges
If this is not your first time being charged with petit theft, a legal advocate can potentially help your case through other defenses.
- Equal Ownership – If you co-own a property with another person, you cannot be convicted of taking the property unless the co-owner has a superior legal interest (or more invested) in it.
- Good Faith Possession – The crime of petit theft requires proof of taking with the intent to steal. If your attorney can prove that you strongly believed the property was yours or you had permission to have it, this could be a beneficial defense to take.
- Mere Presence – According to Florida law, your mere presence at the scene of a crime is insufficient evidence to prove you were involved in the crime. For instance, you cannot be convicted as an accomplice if you go to a retail store with a friend, and that friend steals merchandise.
- Valueless Property – This defense relies on the definition of property. Property is defined as “anything of value.” If someone places an old bookcase by the road, for example, the bookcase is not considered property but, rather, trash—and you would not be criminalized for taking it.
- Voluntary Abandonment – If your attorney can prove that you abandoned the attempt to commit petit theft under circumstances indicating a complete and voluntary renunciation (or giving up), then this defense could be beneficial. Essentially, voluntary abandonment means your conscience incited you to withdraw from stealing something.
- This stands in contrast to involuntary abandonment, which occurs when outside circumstances cause one to withdraw from committing a theft crime—involuntary abandonment is not a sufficient defense.
- Coercion – If a third-party held a knife to you saying they would harm if you did not steal an item from a store, for instance, this would be an adequate defense.
- Improper Evidentiary Procedure – If police seized evidence relating to your petit theft charges without a lawful search warrant, this could be grounds for defense.
- Mistaken Identity – Poor surveillance video quality might bring into question whether you or someone else committed a petit theft crime.
Immigration, Deportation, and Petit Theft
It’s important to note that if you are not native to the United States, your immigration status is pending, and you’ve been convicted of petit theft, you may be subject to deportation proceedings. Contact a criminal defense attorney immediately to understand your legal options.
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Armando J. Hernandez, P.A. has overs 19 years’ experience as both a prosecutor and criminal defense attorney. He has successfully handled thousands of cases, ranging from misdemeanors to severe felonies in Miami.
He boasts several accolades and belongs to the following elite groups:
- The National Trial Lawyers: Top 100 Trial Lawyers from 2014–2021
- America’s Top 100 Criminal Defense Attorneys
Our boutique law firm offers an unrivaled, personalized approach when reviewing each client’s case. When we take on a case, we devote 100% of our effort, time, and resources to help you understand your legal options, whatever charges you may be facing.Call us today at (305) 400-0074 or submit your information here to schedule your free consultation.