Everybody has heard of the old saying: finders keepers, losers weepers. Unfortunately, in Florida adhering to this rule could get you in trouble and even end with a jail or prison sentence for theft. If you find something in a public place in Florida, you cannot pick it up and keep it. Instead, you are supposed to turn it into authorities. This means that if you are at an amusement park or a hotel for example, you turn the property over to a staff member. If you find something on the street or at the beach, you are supposed to turn the property in to the police. The police will then try to find the rightful owner.
If the property you find is worth less than $750, you are potentially facing a misdemeanor or petit theft charge. The maximum sentence for the petit theft charge would be up to 1 year in jail and a $1000 fine.
If the value of the property you are alleged to have taken is $750 or more, you can be charged with grand theft. Grand theft is a 3rd degree felony and is punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $5000 fine.
In order to prove theft by finding the prosecutor has to prove the same elements as for a regular theft charge. According to Florida statute 812.014 the prosecutor has to prove the following elements:
The defendant took or used the property of another
With the intent to either temporarily or permanently deprive the other person of the property.
One of the elements in question for theft by finding could be whether or not you should have known that the property belonged to someone else and was not abandoned. If an item was abandoned then you cannot be charged with theft. Whether or not the prosecutor can prove this element would depend on where and how the property was found and what the item is. If you find a wallet with ID card and cash and credit cards inside on a chair on the beach, it seems likely that someone simply forgot the wallet and did not intent to abandon or discard it. However, if you find the same wallet empty on the ground next t a trash can, it is likely that someone was trying to throw away the wallet or simply abandoned it.
Another element in question would be whether or not you had the intent to deprive someone of the property. In other words whether or not you had the intent to steal. For example, if you find the wallet filled with ID, credit cards and cash, take the wallet and then turn it into police a
couple of hours later, it would come down to whether or not you have had a chance to turn the wallet in sooner or if that was the first reasonable opportunity you have had to turn in the wallet. If for example you speak to authorities and are asked whether or not you have found a wallet and you deny having found the wallet even though you are on camera finding the wallet and looking at its contents prior to speaking to authorities, the prosecutor can use this to prove that you had the intent to at least temporarily deprive someone of the wallet even if you end up turning it in hours later and you never actually kept the wallet.
If you are charged with retail theft, it is often easy to determine the value of the property that you are alleged to have stolen. The value would simply be the sale price of the item before tax. However, if you are charged with theft because you allegedly kept an item you found somewhere, it can be a lot harder to prove the value of the item. The value of the property based on Florida law is typically the original sale price of the item, minus an adjustment for how old the item is and in what condition the item is in.
If you or a loved one has been charged with theft, no matter if it’s a misdemeanor or felony charge, you want to make sure to hire an experienced Tampa criminal defense attorney. A knowledgable Tampa criminal defense attorney can help you explore all of the possible defenses to the theft charges. Kerstin Wade has over 10 years of experience defending hundreds of people against theft charges. She will leave no stone unturned in your defense and always strive to achieve the best possible outcome for you. Kerstin Wade has an office in downtown Tampa, not far from the courthouse. Kerstin Wade represents clients in Tampa, Plant City, Brandon, Fish Hawk, Valrico and all other areas of Hillsborough County as well as Lakeland, Bartow and all of Polk County. If you or a loved one has been charged with theft, call the Wade Law Firm today at 813-401-0130 for your free consultation with Kerstin Wade.