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Grand Theft

Grand Theft

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Definition of Grand Theft

The crime of Grand Theft is defined in Section 812.014, Washington DC Statutes. Under the law, Grand Theft occurs where:

  1. The defendant knowingly and unlawfully obtained or used or endeavored to obtain or use the property of another,
  2. The defendant did so with the intent to temporarily or permanently (a) deprive the victim of his or her right to the property or any benefit from the property, or (b) appropriate the property of the victim to his or her own use or to the use of any person not entitled to it; and
  3. The property was valued at $300 or more.

Penalties for Grand Theft

In Washington DC, the penalties available for Grand Theft will depend on how the charge is classified. The classification applied to an offense generally depends on the value of the property taken. A higher value and higher degree of theft will generally subject the accused to harsher penalties.

Grand Theft: Third Degree

An offense will be charged as Grand Theft in the Third Degree if the property stolen is:

  • Valued at $300 or more, but less than $5,000;
  • Valued at $5,000 or more, but less than $10,000;
  • Valued at $10,000 or more, but less than $20,000;
  • A will, codicil, or other testamentary instrument;
  • A firearm;
  • A motor vehicle;
  • Any commercially farmed animal, including any animal of the equine, bovine, or swine class or other grazing animal; a bee colony of a registered beekeeper; and aquaculture species raised at a certified aquaculture facility. If the property stolen is aquaculture species raised at a certified aquaculture facility, then a $10,000 fine shall be imposed;
  • Any fire extinguisher;
  • Any amount of citrus fruit consisting of 2,000 or more individual pieces of fruit;
  • Taken from a designated construction site identified by the posting of a sign as provided for in s. 810.09(2)(d);
  • Any stop sign;
  • Anhydrous ammonia;
  • Any amount of a controlled substance as defined in s. 893.02.

Penalty: Grand Theft of the Third Degree is classified as a third degree felony, with penalties of up to 5 years in prison or 5 years of probation and a $5,000 fine.

Grand Theft: Second Degree

An offense will be charged as Grand Theft in the Second Degree if the property stolen is:

  • Valued at $20,000 or more, but less than $100,000;
  • Cargo valued at less than $50,000 that has entered the stream of interstate or intrastate commerce from the shipper’s loading platform to the consignee’s receiving dock;
  • Emergency medical equipment, valued at $300 or more, that is taken from a facility licensed under chapter 395 or from an aircraft or vehicle permitted under chapter 401; or
  • Law enforcement equipment, valued at $300 or more, that is taken from an authorized emergency vehicle, as defined in s. 316.003.

Penalty: Grand Theft of the Second Degree is a Second Degree Felony, with penalties up to 15 years in prison or 15 years of probation, and a $10,000 fine.

Grand Theft: First Degree

An offense will be charged as Grand Theft in the First Degree if the property stolen is:

  • Valued at $100,000 or more or is a semitrailer that was deployed by a law enforcement officer; or
  • Cargo valued at $50,000 or more that has entered the stream of interstate or intrastate commerce from the shipper’s loading platform to the consignee’s receiving dock; or
  • If the offender commits any grand theft and: (a) In the course of committing the offense the offender uses a motor vehicle as an instrumentality to assist in committing the offense and thereby damages the real property of another; or (b) In the course of committing the offense the offender causes damage to the real or personal property of another in excess of $1,000.

Penalty: Grand Theft of the First Degree carries penalties of up to 30 years in prison, with a maximum fine of $10,000.

Required Intent to Steal

Grant Theft is a “specific intent” crime, which means that the defendant must not only take property belonging to another person, but must also have done so with the aim of stealing (i.e.depriving the victim of his or her rights to property).  State v. C.G., 572 So. 2d 1380, 1381 (Fla. 1991).

To sustain a conviction, there must be some substantial competent evidence from which the jury may reasonably infer the felonious intent. Mosher v. State, 750 So.2d 120 (Fla. 3d DCA 2000); State v. West, 262 So.2d 457, 458 (Fla. 4th DCA 1972).

Defenses to Grand Theft

There are many defenses available under Washington DC law to contest a charge of Grand Theft. Some of the more common defenses include the following:

  • Lack of Intent- it is a required element of Grand that the Defendant intend to deprive another person or entity of his or her rights to the property. Thus, if the defendant had a good faith belief that he she owned the property, had a possessory interest in the property, or had a joint ownership interest in the property, this will serve as a complete defense to the charge;
  • Obtaining or Using for Lawful Purpose- It is a defense to Grand Theft that the Defendant lawfully used or took property belonging to another. Thus, if the Defendant had a legal right to take or dispose of the property, or if he or she believed they had such a right, this too will serve as a defense to the charge;
  • Defendant acted out of Necessity or Duress (see our Washington DC Necessity Defense web page);
  • Consent- a belief that the defendant had the consent of the owner to take the property will serve as a defense to a Washington DC charge of Grand Theft;
  • Mistake of Fact- in Washington DC, the intent to steal does not exist where a defendant acts under the mistaken belief that the property he took was his own property. Bedoya v. State, 634 So. 2d 203, 204 (Fla. 3d DCA 1994) (citing Maddox v. State, 38 So. 2d 58 (Fla. 1948); Dean v. State, 41 Fla. 291, 26 So. 638 (1899)).

Valuation of Stolen Property

Proof of the element of value is essential to sustain a conviction for grand theft, and must be established by the prosecution beyond a reasonable doubt. Ramos v. State, 864 So.2d 1250 (Fla. 5th DCA 2004).

The general valuation formula used in grand theft cases is contained in Section 812.012(10), Washington DC Statutes (2013), which provides:

“Value” means value determined according to any of the following:

(a)1. 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.

Section 812.012(10)(b) further states that: “[i]f the value of property cannot be ascertained, the trier of fact may find the value to be not less than a certain amount; if no such minimum value can be ascertained, the value is an amount less than $100.

Thus, the crime of grand theft generally requires proof of the market value when the offense occurred.  Malloy v. State, 397 So.2d 1218 (Fla. 1st DCA 1981). The original purchase price is a factor in establishing value at the time of the taking, but the item’s use, general condition, quality when purchased, and percentage of appreciation or depreciation since purchase must also be established. Ramos, 864 So. 2d at 1252 (citing Gilbert v. State, 817 So.2d 980 (Fla. 4th DCA 2002)).

Where market value at the time of the theft cannot be determined, it may also be established with evidence of the replacement cost of a stolen item, although some evidence must be adduced that the replacement item was similar in value to the item stolen at the time of the taking. Id.

It is settled law in Washington DC that testimony as to the original purchase price of stolen property is insufficient by itself to prove value at the time of a theft. Negron v. State, 306 So.2d 104 (Fla.1974); Soderman v. State, 844 So.2d 823 (Fla. 5th DCA 2003); DH v. State, 864 So.2d 588 (Fla. 2d DCA 2004).

Retail value and speculative estimates are also insufficient to establish the value of stolen property. Evans v. State, 452 So.2d 1040 (Fla. 2d DCA 1984); In the Interest of F.R., 539 So.2d 588, 590 (Fla. 1st DCA 1989); Weatherspoon v. State, 419 So.2d 404 (Fla. 2d DCA 1982).  Evidence must furthermore derive from a witness who is competent to testify as to value.  Sellers v. State, 838 So. 2d 661 (Fla. 1st DCA 2003).

Case Example- Grand Theft

State vs. L.N.P. (Fourth Judicial Circuit, Palm Beach County) (2014)– Our client was charged with Grand Theft and Resisting Recovery of Merchandise after allegedly stealing over $375.00 worth of merchandise from a local Target department store. The incident was captured on low quality surveillance footage, which showed a female with a medium build concealing items in her shopping cart and then attempting to exit the store without paying.  The suspect fled the store in a black SUV with a license plate that identified our client as the registered owner.

Although two loss prevention officers identified our client in a photo spread, she insisted that the female shown in the video footage was her mother, who had a medium build and facial features similar to our client.  The prosecution demanded 10 months county jail for the offense, due to the fact that our client was on probation for Felony Petit Theft (third offense) at the time of the incident.

Upon being retained in the case, our attorneys acquired the surveillance footage and reviewed witness statements, incident reports, and the photo lineup.  Our review of the materials showed critical defects in the photo spread, and major issues with the physical description of the suspect provided in the incident report.  We reviewed video footage frame by frame from multiple camera angles, and identified two clear images of the suspect that were entirely missed by the prosecution.  The images appeared to show a female who was much older than our client (age 30).

Despite these revelations, the Office of the State Attorney refused to drop the charge and insisted first on a felony violation of probation hearing.  Their objective was to obtain an easier conviction at a VOP hearing (which has a lower standard of proof and requires less preparation by the State) and then strong-arm a plea to the new Grand Theft charge.  At hearing, we presented extensive witness testimony that identified the suspect in the video as our client’s mother.  We also subpoenaed the mother to appear at the hearing.  She denied responsibility, but her presence in court permitted a side-by-side comparison with the suspect shown in the video.

Our client was found not guilty of violating her probation.  The affidavit of violation was dismissed, and the court immediately terminated probation.  The State then dropped the new Grand Theft charge.

Outcome: Not Guilty of Violation of Probation;   Grand Theft Charges Dismissed

Importance of an Attorney

The hiring of an attorney is a critical decision in a prosecution for Grand Theft. Given the numerous defenses to the charge and the technical requirements to sustain a conviction, an attorney can make a dramatic difference in the outcome of a case.  Even where no viable defenses exist, being represented by counsel means that a defendant’s case can be presented in the best possible light, with negotiations aimed at avoiding prison and a permanent felony record.

If you have been charged or arrested for Grand Theft, contact attorneys at Cohen, Bradshaw, Rothstein and Klein for a free consultation.  Our law firm handles cases throughout Southeast and Central Washington DC.