What a Pinellas County Man’s Waffle House Tattoo Can Teach About Theft Laws in Florida

A conviction on a theft charge can have serious ramifications. A Florida judge can suspend your driver’s license even if your conviction is only a misdemeanor. If you’re facing theft charges, a skilled Tampa Bay criminal defense lawyer may have many options in your case. These could include challenging the value of the item(s) in question, arguing mistaken identity, or contesting your intent to deprive the owner of their property (among other possibilities.) With all these potential avenues out there, contacting an experienced lawyer about your case is well worth your while.

A well-worn phrase posits that it is “better to be lucky than good.” In one recent local theft case, the operative phrase arguably could have been: “If you’re not going to be smart, it is good to be lucky.”

The suspect in the case was M.K., a 33-year-old Clearwater man who traveled to a St. Petersburg tattoo parlor during the evening of Dec. 2 to obtain some new body art. A true aficionado of haute cuisine, the customer elected to get a five-inch-wide replica of the Waffle House logo tattooed onto his right calf.

As Waffle House fans worldwide readily know, the eatery’s logo is yellow and black. However, because adding yellow ink would have cost an additional $100, M.K. opted for a basic black and gray logo.

At the end of the appointment, the provider charged the customer $250. At that juncture, the reportedly intoxicated customer advised the business that he did not have his debit card. The business gave the man “multiple options” for satisfying the debt, and he refused them all. A police search revealed that the customer had only a driver’s license and six dollars in cash on him.

Based on those facts, the police charged the customer with petit theft in the first degree.

Petit Theft Versus Grand Theft, and Degrees of Theft

So, how, you may wonder, was this customer lucky? He was lucky that Florida changed its theft laws a few years ago (and that he opted against adding the yellow ink to his Waffle House tattoo.)

In 2019, Florida updated its theft laws to bring them more in line with other states. Before the update, a theft of as little as $300 could qualify as third-degree grand theft, a felony crime. So, had the state not changed its law and had M.K. added the yellow ink, he potentially could have faced felony charges for walking out on his tattoo bill.

Today in Florida, $750 generally is the minimum cut-off for the state to bring a felony theft charge successfully. Theft of property valued at less than $100 is generally second-degree petit theft (a second-degree misdemeanor,) and first-degree petit theft typically covers thefts where the value is between $100 and $750.

There are exceptions that can raise your sub-$750 theft to a felony, though. If you allegedly committed petit theft and have two or more theft convictions on your criminal record, the state can pursue your case as a felony.

To make out a petit theft case, the state must prove three essential things:

  • that you wrongfully obtained the item(s) in question,
  • that you took the item(s) intentionally,
  • that you intended to deprive the owner of that property or appropriate it for use.

Theft crime cases potentially allow you to pursue various defenses. These include arguing that you had a right to take and use the item(s) in question, that the item(s) in question aren’t worth as much as the owner (and the state) say they are, or that you unintentionally took the item(s) in dispute. These are but a few examples.

The knowledgeable Tampa Bay criminal defense attorneys at Blake & Dorsten P.A. work diligently to protect our theft crime clients’ rights fully and provide them with the most powerful and effective defense advocacy available. Whether yours was just a minor shoplifting matter or a major theft, we can help. To find out more, call us today at (727) 286-6141 to schedule your free initial consultation.

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