Petit Theft in Florida: What You Need To Know

By: James Davis

Most people understand what they are being accused of if they are charged with theft.  But you may be less familiar with the degrees of theft charges.  Some are more serious than others, but all of them may come with serious penalties. One of the less understood crimes is known as “petit theft.”

In Florida, petit theft is the unlawful taking of property worth less than $300. Don’t be fooled by the name, petit theft in Florida is taken quite seriously. There are two degrees of petit theft–first degree and second degree.

Petit theft of the First Degree involves taking a property between $100 and $300. In addition, you may be charged with first degree petit theft if you have a prior theft conviction, even if you are accused of taking something worth less than $100. The potential penalties if convicted include a year of jail, a year of probation, or a fine up to $1,000.

Petit Theft of the Second Degree naturally refers to cases where the value of property one is accused of taking is less than $100. The potential punishment is slightly less severe, but still significant.  A judge can order six months in jail, six month probation, or a fine up to

On top of potential fines, probation, or jail time, someone convicted of petit theft may also have their driver’s license suspended.

Notice to Appear
A charge of petit theft may be originated by what is called a “notice to appear.” When a notice to appear is filed, the police are choosing not to arrest the suspected offender. Instead, the notice to appear acts to provide the suspected offender notice that he must show up on the specified date to face the charges at a court hearing. A notice to appear can be filed by any police officer who has “reasonable cause” to believe that someone committed a crime.

However, just because the police are not showing up at your door and taking you in does not mean that you are free to ignore a notice to appear. If someone ignores a notice to appear, an arrest warrant can then be issued against that person for the underlying petit theft charges as well as an additional charge for failure to appear.

Defend Yourself
Fortunately, there are many ways to defend yourself if charged with petit theft.  Considering the consequences and potential effect on your criminal record, it is worth putting your best foot forward.  Some of the most common defenses in these cases include showing that you actually owned the property or arguing that you did not actually intend to steal the property–you may have just made a good-faith mistake.

Have You Been Issued a Notice To Appear?
If you have been issued a notice to appear, you are permitted to have counsel with you when you do appear for the hearing. It is critically important that you show up to the hearing accompanied by an experienced Florida criminal defense attorney who will be able to protect your rights and make sure that the police and prosecutors do not walk all over you.

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