Florida Theft Crimes Require Prosecution to Prove Fair Market Value of Stolen Property, Rules Appeals Court

The value of the stolen items is a required element in proving a Florida theft crime. The greater the value of the allegedly stolen item, the harsher the potential penalty. There are a variety of methods that the parties to a theft crime use to establish the value of a stolen item. A November 2017 Fifth District Court of Appeals decision overturned a grand theft conviction because the prosecution had failed to establish the value of the property beyond a reasonable doubt.

The court in this case relied on a 2013 decision, C.G. v. State of Florida, to determine the appropriate method to establish the valuation of stolen property under Florida law. At trial, the defendant was convicted of first-degree petit theft for stealing a cell phone with a value of $100 or more but less than $300. The Fifth District court held that there was not sufficient evidence to show that the cell phone’s value was at least $100.

The victim of the theft testified that he paid $200 for the cell phone six months before the theft and that the cell phone was in essentially the same condition at the time it was stolen as it was when it was purchased. The court, in reciting the applicable law, stated that the value of a stolen item at the time of the theft must be established beyond a reasonable doubt. Value may be established through direct testimony of fair market value. In the absence of direct testimony, its value can be established through evidence of:  (1) the original market cost; (2) the manner in which the property was used; (3) the condition of the property; and (4) the percentage of depreciation of the items since the purchase.

In a trial involving new technology, the court noted that computer-related equipment can become obsolete very quickly, and evidence must be presented to determine its value at the time of the alleged crime. In other words, the prosecution must either present direct testimony as to the value of the stolen item or establish all four prongs of the above mentioned test. In C.G., the prosecution did not present direct testimony and failed to present evidence that would establish the cell phone’s depreciation in value, which could have dropped below $100.

Florida law criminalizes various kinds of theft. The prosecution is required to prove all of the elements of a theft crime, including the value of the allegedly stolen property. Will Hanlon, attorney at law, has years of experience representing people in theft cases and ensuring that the prosecution is following the rules and meeting its burden of proof. If you have been arrested for a theft crime, call Hanlon Law to discuss your situation with a Clearwater theft crime attorney. You can contact us via our website or call us at 727-897-5413 to schedule an appointment.

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