The law is clear: theft is illegal. But while it is the law that can put you behind bars if you are found guilty of theft in our state, specific nuances within the law can be helpful when trying to prove and defend against theft charges.
So, what do we mean when we talk about theft in Florida? The term can cover a variety of crimes, including larceny, stealing, shoplifting, misappropriation, conversion, and other similar offenses. But regardless of the actual crime, a person commits theft under Florida law 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:
- Deprive the other person of a right to the property or a benefit from the property.
- Appropriate the property to his or her own use or to the use of any person not entitled to the use of the property.
Basically? Theft is when you take or use someone else’s property – without their permission – to deny them any benefit or right to that property.
So while taking something from someone else’s house might technically qualify as theft, there are two specific words within the law that we can use to disprove that an actual theft occurred and defend against those charges. Those words are “knowingly” and “intent.”
Proving Theft Charges
In order to commit theft and be convicted on theft charges, you need to know that you took or used someone else’s property and you need to have the intent to deprive or deny that person of their property. Without those two elements, a theft crime did not occur.
The prosecution has the burden of proof in a criminal trial. For a theft case, the prosecution is responsible for proving the following elements:
- The defendant took possession of someone else’s property
- The property owner did not give the defendant permission to take the property
- At the time of the theft, the defendant had the intent to take it temporarily or permanently, and
- The defendant moved the property (appropriation) and kept it – even for a short period of time
Theft only occurs if all four of these elements are successfully proven in court. If, however, the prosecution is unable to prove even just one of these elements, then a jury will be unable to convict the defendant on theft charges.
Defending Against Theft Charges
As the prosecution tries to prove the elements of theft, it is the defense attorney’s job to poke holes in their case and show that those elements weren’t actually present. In order to do this, there are certain defense strategies that can be especially effective for theft offenses, including:
- Lack of intent. If the defendant didn’t have intent to temporarily or permanently keep the property or deprive the owner of the property, then theft didn’t occur. For this reason, a defense attorney might stress that their client had no intent when taking someone else’s property.
- Belief of right or ownership. If a defendant believes that he actually owns the property or has a right to it, then theft didn’t happen because you can’t steal your own property. If this is the route taken, an attorney will then have to show that their client honestly believed the property was theirs to take. Proving this with evidence might be difficult – but it’s not impossible.
- Consent. If the defendant believes the property owner gave consent, then he or she cannot be convicted of theft.
Theft charges can be confusing if you don’t believe you actually stole anything. For that very reason, you should fight those charges with the help of an experienced Florida theft attorney, who will be able to look at the facts of your case and craft the best defense to get your charges reduced, dropped, or dismissed.
About the Author:
Attorney David W. Olson is the founder of the Law Offices of David W. Olson in West Palm Beach. He has been practicing criminal law and successfully representing clients throughout the State of Florida for over 30 years. Throughout his legal career, Mr. Olson has been honored numerous times for both his dedication and excellence in criminal law. He proudly holds the Martindale-Hubbell AV Rating, as well as being recognized as a Top 100 Trial Lawyer (2013), in the Nation’s Top One Percent of attorneys (2015), and as a 10 Best Member of the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys (2015). He has even received commendations from members of congress and other public officials for the fantastic work that he’s done. Mr. Olson graduated from the University of Florida’s Fredric G. Levin College of Law in 1981 and has been a member of the Florida Bar since 1983.