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Grand Theft vs. Petit Theft

shopping.jpgThere’s a never ending push by law enforcement to make everything a felony charge. Nowhere is this push more evident than in shoplifting cases, where the values of items stolen are often times exaggerated to transform an everyday misdemeanor petit theft into a more serious felony grand theft–simply by alleging the value of the stolen goods was greater than $300. So, just to be clear, shoplifted items with a value under $300 is merely a misdemeanor petit theft charge. At $301+, it’s a felony charge punishable by up to 5 years prison.

The main question in such cases revolves around what the “value” of goods in a store really are, versus simply what the store has on their price tags. Price tags do not necessarily equal value, and the only way to prove a grand theft is to prove “value”. So, how do you prove value? Well, let’s demonstrate by showing how ‘not’ to prove it. The case of Blount v. State, 30 So.3d 662 (Fla. 4th DCA 2010) provides insight into the difference between proof of a petit theft versus a grand theft. In Blount, the defendant was convicted of grand theft from a retail store of a 15-inch LCD TV, a DVD player, and three pairs of Dickie pants. The store’s loss-prevention officer testified that the TV’s price was about “$200, $300” and the DVD player’s price was about “$80.” Id. The investigating police officer also testified straight off his police report, that the total of the TV, DVD player, and pants was $479.96. After the State rested, defendant moved to dismiss the charges in the middle of the trial (technically, a judgment of acquittal), arguing that the State failed to present sufficient evidence regarding the value of the TV, DVD player, and pants. The trial court denied defendant’s motion.

On appeal, the court started with the basics, noting that “to establish grand theft, the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the value of stolen property is “$300 or more, but less than $5,000.” Id. See § 812.014(2)(c)1., Fla. Stat. (2008), further quoting the well established rule of law that “evidence is generally insufficient to prove the value of stolen property is $300 or more, where the property’s value is estimated” Id. The court overturned the grand theft conviction, reducing the conviction to a misdemeanor petit theft, as they found the loss prevention officers values to be mere “estimates”, and as such, estimates cannot support a grand theft conviction. The appellate court also dismissed the police officer’s grand total value of $479.96, reasoning that “the police officer did not provide any basis for the $479.96 total, such as the specific values of the TV, DVD player, and pants, or how or when the total was calculated, or who calculated it.” Id. at 663.

This issue of “value” is often overlooked in grand theft cases arising out of a shoplifting accusation. Courts and prosecutors just assume that the price estimates of items are the actual “values” of the items, and such is not the case. These “values” must be proven with specificity. These “values” must be proven exactly, estimates are not enough. I’ve had numerous grand theft cases in my 17+ years as a criminal defense attorney I’ve often presented alternative proof that department store prices of goods are inflated, and as such these high prices should not be considered the “value” of the goods. This evidence of lower “values” can reduce a felony to a misdemeanor.