Bradenton Theft Crime Defense Attorneys
Let a Lawyer Protect Your Rights
While seemingly minor, theft offenses should be handled very carefully, as they are “crimes of dishonesty” that can have long-lasting impacts. Generally speaking, a theft occurs when someone is intentionally deprived of their property, even if it is only temporary. Whatever degree of crime you are charged with, a top Bradenton theft crime defense lawyer is your best chance to fight for your rights.
Under Florida law, if the value of the alleged stolen property is less than $300, you may be charged with petit theft, a misdemeanor for first-time offenders. Petit theft is the most common charge for those accused of stealing from retail stores. It is typical for law enforcement to use surveillance tapes and interviews with loss prevention personnel to prove their case. Prosecutors can charge someone as a principal to the theft, even if they themselves did not take any merchandise.
If the value of the property taken was over $300, you may be charged with grand theft, a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Additionally, if the property is not recovered, you could be responsible to pay restitution to the alleged victim of the theft. It is important to speak to a Bradenton theft crime defense attorney who can review your options with you. Fowler Law Group has extensive experience with prosecuting and defending those charged with theft offenses. Call today for information about what you can do to prevent a conviction for a crime of dishonesty from appearing on your record.
While grand theft is a third-degree felony in most cases, it can also be prosecuted as a second-degree or even first-degree offense. For example, if a theft involves property valued at $20,000 or more (but less than $100,000), emergency medical equipment valued at $300 or more, or law enforcement equipment valued at $300 or more, it is a second-degree felony under Florida law. In cases involving property valued at $100,000 or more, commission of grand theft involving a vehicle (other than as a getaway vehicle), or commission of grand theft resulting in property damage in excess of $1,000, prosecutors can pursue first-degree felony charges, carrying a minimum of 21 months in prison and up to a $10,000 fine. You could also be at risk for long-term probation, restitution, and other penalties.
In Florida, burglary in its most simple form is defined as the “entering of a dwelling, structure, or conveyance” (usually meaning a vehicle) with the intent to commit an offense within the dwelling, structure, or conveyance. The law also allows for a presumption of intent to commit an offense if the entering of the dwelling, structure, or conveyance was done in a secret manner without the permission of the owner of the property. Burglary is always a felony, and the seriousness of the offense increases if the offender is accused of burglarizing a dwelling. The stakes get even higher if the dwelling was occupied, and worse if the defendant is accused of being armed while committing the burglary. Burglary in its various forms is a serious matter in the State of Florida, and the State Attorney routinely seeks prison time for those accused of burglary. The state usually relies on witness testimony and physical evidence (such as DNA and fingerprints), and sometimes may even attempt to tell a jury about a past crime you were accused of if it was factually similar. It is important to contact an experienced team of Bradenton theft lawyers who can evaluate the evidence that the state has against you and help place you in the best position possible to fight this serious charge.
Florida has an increasing level of punishments for those who are accused of scheming to defraud. Florida defines “scheming to defraud” as a “systematic, ongoing course of conduct with intent to defraud one or more persons, or with intent to obtain property from one or more persons by false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises, or willful misrepresentations of a future act.” Organized fraud that results in the acquiring of property valued at $50,000 or more is guilty of a first-degree felony, punishable by up to 30 years in prison. Between $20,000 and $49,999 is a second-degree felony punishable by 15 years in prison, and any amount less than $20,000 is considered a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. Should the defendant engage in a scheme to defraud, and in furtherance of the scheme communicate with any person with the intent to obtain property from that person, the defendant is guilty of communications fraud punishable by up to five years in prison if the value of the property obtained (or attempted to be obtained) is $300 or more. If the property is worth less than $300, the charge is a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by 11 months 29 days in the county jail. These fraudulent crimes are often called “white-collar crimes” (such as embezzlement).
What Defenses Can Your Lawyer Present?
There are a variety of potential defenses to petit theft, grand theft, burglary, and fraud charges under Florida law. The defenses you can assert in your case will depend on the specific facts and circumstances involved.
Some examples of defenses our attorneys may be able to assert on your behalf include:
- Lack of knowledge or intent: Theft charges require evidence of both knowledge and intent. Specifically, prosecutors must prove that you knew you were obtaining or using someone else’s property, and they must prove that you intended to deprive the owner or appropriate the property for yourself or someone else. If you lacked the knowledge or intent required for criminal culpability, then you are not guilty of theft.
- Good-faith belief: One way to demonstrate lack of knowledge and intent is by showing that you had a good-faith belief that you were entitled to possess or use the property. For example, if you believed the property belonged to you or a family member, if you believed that you had the owner’s permission, or if you believed you had a “possessory interest” in the property (i.e. you thought you had validly purchased or leased it), this could serve as a complete defense.
- Mistake: Since guilt requires evidence of knowledge and intent, it is possible to defend against a theft charge by showing that you made a mistake. For example, if you walked out of a store not realizing that you still had merchandise in your cart that you hadn’t paid for, this mistake does not make you a criminal under Florida law.
- Property owner consent: If the owner consented to your use of the property in question, or if you reasonably believed that you had the owner’s consent, this can provide a defense as well. If you had consent (or thought you had consent), then this suggests that you were not intending to deprive the owner or appropriate the property against the owner’s will.
- Improper value: In many cases, grand theft charges are based on the value of the property involved. If police or prosecutors incorrectly calculated the value of the property at issue in your case, then you could be facing a far more serious charge than is warranted. By showing that the property isn’t worth what police or prosecutors claim, it may be possible to limit the penalties that are at stake in your case.
- Constitutional violations: If the police obtained evidence in violation of your constitutional rights, this evidence may be inadmissible in court. If prosecutors have improperly withheld evidence, this could provide a constitutional defense as well. If you have constitutional defenses available, you may be able to avoid a guilty verdict even if you committed a theft, burglary, or fraud.
- Insufficient evidence of guilt: Regardless of the facts of your case, it is up to the prosecution to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If the prosecution cannot meet this burden —and if your theft attorney can show it — then you should be able to walk free.
Can You Resolve Your Theft Case Without Going to Trial?
In addition to potentially asserting these defenses (among others) in court, an attorney at Fowler Law Group may also be able to help minimize the consequences of your arrest through other means.
For example, depending on the circumstances of your case, our theft defense attorneys may be able to help you by:
- Negotiating a plea deal: Negotiating a plea deal affords the opportunity to resolve your case without the risk of facing a maximum sentence. If the circumstances of your case are such that you cannot avoid a conviction entirely, your attorney will be able to negotiate a plea deal that keeps you out of jail or limits the amount of time you have to serve.
- Pretrial intervention: Florida’s pretrial intervention program affords an opportunity for eligible defendants to have their records cleared. If you are eligible for pretrial intervention, your attorney can help you get into the program and give you the guidance you need to complete the program successfully. Once you complete the program, your theft charge will be dropped.
Should You Plead Guilty to Your Theft Charge?
If you are facing a theft charge, you should not plead guilty. This can be a huge mistake — and it can be a mistake that is difficult to overcome. Pleading guilty will result in a conviction. Contrary to popular belief, you will not get “credit” for cooperating or saving the court’s time. You could have several options for achieving a more favorable result in your theft case, and you owe it to yourself to speak with a lawyer about the options you have available.
Speak with a Bradenton Theft Crime Defense Lawyer About Your Case
If you are facing a theft charge, it is important that you discuss your case with an attorney as soon as possible. A theft conviction can have life-altering consequences, and you should not try to handle your situation on your own.
To schedule a confidential consultation with a lawyer at Fowler Law Group as soon as possible, call (941) 900-3100 or contact us online.
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