Absence of Price Tags or Other Credible Evidence Helps Florida Defendant Win Petit Theft Conviction Appeal

grocery cartWhen you or a loved one stands trial for a crime, it is important to put up the most vigorous defense possible, even when the crime in question is only a misdemeanor. Even misdemeanors can have serious consequences, and the difference between, say, a first-degree misdemeanor and a second-degree misdemeanor can be substantial. In a recent case of theft from a Walmart, the state managed to secure a conviction of first-degree petit theft, even though it lacked hard proof that the goods allegedly stolen were worth more than $100. Because of that shortage of evidence, the Fourth District Court of Appeal threw out that first-degree petit theft conviction.

In March 2015, a security guard at the Sebastian Walmart spotted a shopper and another woman leaving with a cart of items, some of which had been purchased and some not. The guard detained the woman, and eventually the police responded. The officer took pictures of the contents of the cart. The woman was arrested and charged with first-degree petit theft.

At the woman’s trial, the prosecution introduced the police officer’s photos into evidence. The pictures displayed various meat products, but the prices of the meat weren’t visible. The police officer testified at the trial, but he did not give testimony regarding the value of the unpaid items in the woman’s cart. The security guard also testified at the trial, but he did not give testimony about the items’ worth.

The defense moved for an acquittal, arguing that the state never proved that the value of the stolen items was $100 or more, which is a required element of a first-degree petit theft charge. The prosecutor admitted that the state did not have an exact value of the stolen items and instead directed the jury to “use their common sense.”

On the basis of that suggestion and the jurors’ own common sense, they convicted the woman. The woman successfully got that conviction overturned on appeal. The manner in which the woman was convicted did not meet the law’s requirements regarding the minimum level of proof required. Previous case rulings have made it clear that a “conviction for first-degree petit theft requires competent substantial evidence showing that the defendant stole property with a ‘value’ at the time of the theft between $100 and $300.” If the state fails to prove, with competent substantial evidence, that the defendant stole items worth $100 or more, the defendant cannot be convicted of first-degree petit theft.

In some situations, “common sense” can meet the law’s competent substantial evidence requirement. The appeals court used the example of a classic Pablo Picasso painting. Common sense alone would be enough to tell anyone that a Picasso masterpiece was worth more than $100. However, when the items in question were only a menagerie of supermarket meats, and the prosecution’s photos of those meats were without price tags visible, common sense alone could not serve as the required amount of proof.

As a result, the court ordered the conviction reduced to second-degree petit theft. The difference between these two crimes is significant. Second-degree petit theft is a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 60 days in jail. First-degree petit theft, although still a misdemeanor, is a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison.

Whether the charge you’re facing is a misdemeanor or a felony, you should defend yourself as aggressively as possible. The hardworking Tampa Bay theft crime attorneys at Blake & Dorsten P.A. have been helping people with their criminal matters for many years. Our experienced attorneys are ready to discuss your case with you. Call us today at (727) 286-6141 to schedule your FREE initial consultation and get the answers and the reliable assistance you need.

More blog posts:

Florida man steals 4 million pounds of oranges, Tampa Bay Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, Oct. 1, 2015

Dallas Cowboy running back arrested for shoplifting, Tampa Bay Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, Oct. 16, 2014

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