One of the most common crimes people see on a regular basis is theft. We all know someone who has shoplifted as a teenager. Heck, even celebrities get caught up in the act. Or, if you’ve worked in retail, it’s almost a daily occurrence. Even if you don’t work in retail, we all know the impact shoplifting has when we go to the mall because clothing items have sensors attached, and big retailers have security guards at every pass-through point.
Even by its statutory name Petit Theft, aka “Petty Theft,” the name makes it sound insignificant. However, the reality is that a charge of petty theft is not insignificant; it can actually have a lasting effect on your life if you are convicted.
While the lowest form of Petit Theft is a second-degree misdemeanor, theft charges can reach a first-degree felony. And, while “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,” it doesn’t take much to make a Petit Theft into a Grand Theft. Any property taken in excess of $300.00 is considered Grand Theft – a 3rd degree felony.
After a second charge of petty theft, the defendant could be facing a felony theft charge as the penalties get enhanced for each conviction. In addition to criminal enhancements, trespass warnings are often issued preventing the defendant from ever returning to that store. Upon return after a trespass warning, an additional crime of trespass could be filed.
Not only does petty theft incur criminal charges, there is a significant likelihood that the retail store will seek a civil attorney to pursue civil charges as well. Under Florida’s civil theft statute, a retailer can get three times the value of the merchandise taken or a minimum of $200.00. They are still entitled to that money even if the merchandise is recovered. What’s even more significant, is that the statute provides the prevailing party attorney’s fees. This means that the $10 knickknack taken at Claire’s boutique could end up being a several thousands of dollars civil judgment along with any criminal sanction.
On top of the potential civil court case, your arrest may be something that you have to disclose in the future to a potential employer. Since theft is a crime of moral turpitude, it may be a reason for an employer not to hire you, or to fire you.
What to Do
As you can see, there is nothing petty about Petit Theft. If you or a loved one has been charged with theft, first download my new book, “My loved one has been arrested. What’s Next?”. Do not ignore any demand letters from civil attorneys. Save all court notices. Contact an experienced criminal defense attorney in your area to respond to the charges. Make sure you tell them about the civil demand letter(s) so they can potentially negotiate a better resolution to the demand, saving you money in the long run.