Petit theft is normally a misdemeanor offense. If the property is valued at less than $100 and you have no prior convictions for any theft crime, the charge is a second-degree misdemeanor (maximum sentence of 60 days in county jail).
Petit theft can be a first-degree misdemeanor (maximum sentence of 364 days in county jail) if the value of the property is $100 - $299.99 or if you have a prior conviction for any theft crime.
However, Florida law permits petit theft to be charged as a felony if the accused has two or more prior theft crimes. The prior theft crimes can be any degree of petit theft or any degree of grand theft.
Felony petit theft (charged as petit theft with two or more convictions) is a third-degree felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison.
Most instances of felony petit theft occur as acts of shoplifting, or retail theft. The felony charge is proven by establishing that the accused temporarily or permanently deprived the rightful owner/possessor of the property and that the accused has two or more prior convictions for theft. The State Attorney's Office proves prior convictions by introducing certified dispositions into evidence. Since certified dispositions bear seals from the Clerk of Courts, the documents are considered self-authenticating and can be introduced into evidence without a witness.
The State Attorney's Office can also introduce the fingerprints associated with the dispositions. In order to do that, the State Attorney's Office obtains an order from the court that requires the defendant to be fingerprinted. A defendant can be compelled to provide fingerprints as they are considered "non-testimonial" and do not violate a defendant's right to remain silent. Once the fingerprints are taken, a fingerprint examiner will compare the current prints to the old prints to establish that they are from the same person.
Eric Matheny is a criminal defense attorney representing clients charged with theft crimes in Miami-Dade County and Broward County.