How Does the State Prove the Value of Stolen Property in a Theft Case?
If you are familiar at all with criminal law, you probably have heard the phrase “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This is the legal burden of proof that a prosecutor must meet to secure a defendant’s conviction. This standard applies to every element of alleged crime. And depending on the nature of the charge, there may be several elements, failure to prove any one of which must lead to a defendant’s acquittal.
Florida Appeals Court Reduces Felony Theft Conviction to Misdemeanor
Take this recent case from the Florida First District Court of Appeal, Devenish v. State. Prosecutors in Leon County charged the defendant with several crimes, including grand theft of property valued at $300 or more. Crimes involving theft are usually classified based on the value of the stolen property. In this case, the defendant argued at trial that the prosecution failed to present sufficient evidence related to the value of the stolen property, and as such he was entitled to an acquittal on that charge.
The judge denied the motion and the court ultimately found the defendant guilty of grand theft. On appeal, however, the First District agreed with the defendant that there was insufficient evidence presented to prove the value of the stolen property beyond a reasonable doubt. Florida law defines the “value” of property in a theft case to mean either “the market value of the property at the time and place of the offense,” or if that value cannot be determined, then the “cost of replacement of the property within a reasonable time after the offense.”
In this case, the prosecution relied solely on the property owner’s testimony regarding what he paid when he purchased the stolen property in question. He also provided photographs of the property. The appeals court said that was insufficient to prove the property’s value “at the time and place of the offense.” After all, property depreciates in value after it is purchased. The First District therefore said the prosecution should have introduced evidence “establishing the amount of depreciation in value” after the owner purchased the items in question.
Consequently, the prosecution did not prove the defendant guilty of grand theft beyond a reasonable doubt. The First District instead directed the trial court to enter a new judgment convicting the defendant of the lesser offense of petit theft.
Contact Florida Criminal Defense Attorney Jose Baez Today
The difference between grand and petit theft is not insignificant. Grand theft is a third-degree felony, while petit theft is a misdemeanor. It should also be noted the case above was decided under an earlier version of Florida’s grand theft statute. Under current law, the threshold for grand theft is now $750. But the prosecution’s burden of proof with respect to establishing the value of stolen property remains unchanged.
If you are accused of theft or any other serious offense and need representation from an experienced Orlando criminal defense lawyer, contact the Baez Law Firm today to schedule a consultation.