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How to contest the value of a stolen item at trial

Phil Photo New By Philip M. Snyder

As a Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney, I am frequently encountered with the question of how the State Attorney’s Office proves the value of an allegedly stolen item at trial.  In theft-related cases, victims (and police officers) will routinely over-estimate the value of an allegedly stolen item when reporting a crime.   Victims over-estimate the value of the stolen item to “punish” the alleged criminal for his act;   Police officers over-estimate the value of the stolen item to enhance the level of the crime.  For example, theft of a $301.00 pair of sunglasses carries a penalty of five (5) years in prison as felony grand theft, whereas theft of a $299.00 pair of sunglasses carries a penalty of 364 days in jail as misdemeanor petit theft.   In cases of theft, the value of the stolen items always determines the level of misdemeanor or felony.

Pursuant to Florida Statute 812.014, “A person commits theft 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: (1) deprive the other person of a right to the property or a benefit from the property; or (2) appropriate the property to his or her use or to the use of any person not entitled to the use of the
property.”

Pursuant to Florida Statute 812.012, in part, “Value means the market value of the property at the time and place of the offense or, if such cannot be satisfactorily ascertained, the cost of replacement of the property within a reasonable time after the offense.    When direct testimony of fair market value of the stolen item is not available, the Supreme Court has set forth “four factors” which the trier of fact can consider in ascertaining market value … (1) the original market cost; (2) the manner in which the item was used; (3) the general condition and quality of the item; and (4) the percentage of depreciation.

To the surprise of many (including Assistant State Attorneys), at trial, if the State only offers evidence of the purchase price of a stolen item without any testimony establishing the value at the stolen item at time of the theft, the Courts have found this evidence insufficient to sustain a conviction for grand theft.   This maxim is true even if the stolen item is “presumably” above the minimum $300.00 threshold for grand theft (i.e. two laptop computers).

Notwithstanding the law, I have witnessed more than one instance of a defense attorney not arguing that the State did not sufficiently prove “value” during the judgment of acquittal phase at trial for grand theft.  In each instance, the defense attorney incorrectly presumed that the State Attorney’s Office presented ample evidence of the stolen property’s value by relying on the victim’s testimony at trial and their (over-estimated) purchase price of the stolen property.

As such, if you or a loved one is arrested for grand theft, petit theft, dealing in stolen property, or scheme to defraud, it is imperative to retain an experienced criminal defense attorney familiar with theft-related crimes pursuant to Florida Statute 812.014 and 812.012.

Martindale “AV” rated criminal defense lawyer Philip M. Snyder is a founding partner of Lyons, Snyder & Collin, P.A. in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.    Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney Philip M. Snyder is a former Broward County Economic Crime Prosecutor and handles all criminal defense matters including, grand theft, petit theft and fraud.   The Fort Lauderdale criminal defense law firm of Lyons, Snyder & Collin, P.A. is located at 312 Southeast 17th Street, Third Floor, Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33316.  Telephone: 954.462.8035.  http://www.lyonssnyder.com/