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Petit Theft and Grand Theft: An Important Difference of Degree in Florida

Like most states, Florida recognizes that there are different degrees of seriousness in property crimes. The simplest sort of property crime is just called theft. And theft crimes can be divided further into petit theft and grand theft — you may have heard, for example, the term “grand theft auto” used in crime dramas (or the video game of the same name).

But what marks the difference between grand theft and petit theft? Under Florida law, the answer is simple. If the items stolen have a present market value of more than $100 at the time they’re stolen, it is considered grand theft. Otherwise, it’s petit theft. In some cases, however, the value of the items stolen comes close to the line or is difficult to establish. Moreover, the Florida Court of Appeals has already ruled — in the 2012 case of Aycockv. State and other like it — that testimony as to the purchase price of an item is not sufficient to establish its current market value beyond a reasonable doubt. The value of an item can fluctuate over time, and most items of personal property depreciate over time — partly from being used, partly from normal wear and tear, and partly from the market’s distaste for last year’s model. Because the state always has the burden of proof in a criminal case, it has the burden to establish the current market value of the items stolen. Testimony about the purchase price isn’t good enough. If it fails to meet this burden, the maximum crime with which the defendant can be charged is petit theft (after all, the defendant stole something, so surely it had a value of something).

Establishing the Price of an Old Laptop

In the 2013 case of Olivera v. State, the defendant was charged with several property crimes, including burglary, possession of burglary tools, and grand theft. On the grand theft charge, the prosecutors alleged, and the jury found, that the defendant had stolen several electronic devices, including a laptop computer, and iPod, and a camera. At trial, the victim had testified that she bought the laptop computer for around $1,400 or $1,500 and that it was about two years old. She further testified that she’d paid around $130 each for the camera and iPod, which were each about six months old. There was no other testimony about the value of the items. The Florida Court of Appeals therefore concluded that the government had not met its burden of proof. There was no evidence of the present market value of the items, since the purchase price does not suffice as proof of present market value. The defendant, therefore, had been proved to be guilty only of petit theft, not grand theft.

It’s vital to have an attorney who won’t let the government get away with sloppy proof and inadequate evidence as defined by Florida law. An experienced theft crimes attorney like Kevin J. Kulik based in Fort Lauderdale can provide the passionate defense you deserve.

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