Florida Should Re-think Punitive Sentences and Increase Felony Theft Thresholds

Commentary

Florida Should Re-think Punitive Sentences and Increase Felony Theft Thresholds

As Florida’s neighboring states have shown, it is possible to raise felony theft thresholds and reduce larceny-theft offenses simultaneously.

In 1986, Florida was a very different place than it is today. A gallon of gasoline cost an average of $0.93, Floridians had just elected Bob Martinez as their governor, and Apple was known to the average American only as a fruit.

Today, a gallon of gasoline costs $2.13, Florida has seen six additional governors since Bob Martinez, and Apple is getting ready to launch its eighth version of an iPhone—something unimaginable in the 1980’s.

Much has changed in the state of Florida since 1986, but unfortunately, its threshold for a first-time felony theft offense has remained stubbornly the same: a mere $300. In recent years, while many states—including all of Florida’s neighboring states—have significantly increased their felony theft thresholds to adjust either for inflation or as a retreat from more punitive punishment for low-level offenders, Florida has remained an outlier. The last time Florida increased its felony theft threshold was with the passage of Senate Bill 83 in 1986, which raised the amount from $100 to $300.

Florida statutes define theft as an act a person commits 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: a) deprive the other person of a right to the property or a benefit from the property; or b) appropriate the property to his or her own use or to the use of any person not entitled to the use of the property.”

There are varying degrees and types of theft in Florida, each of which carry different types of punishments. There is petit theft, typically a misdemeanor offense, and grand theft, a felony offense. Grand theft in the third degree is the lowest level felony grand theft offense. The offense is defined as the theft of property valued at between $300 and $20,000, among other things. In Florida, this offense is a felony in the third degree, which can result in up to five years in prison and up to a $5,000 fine upon conviction.

There are two other low-level felony theft offenses that can result in prison time in Florida, both involving theft of property valued below the $300 felony grand theft threshold. These offenses include petit theft as a third offense, and grand theft of a dwelling.

In Florida, petit theft is either a first degree or second degree misdemeanor, depending on the value of the property involved. However, if a person commits any petit theft offense and has previously been convicted of two or more theft offenses as an adult or juvenile, it is considered a third degree felony, which can result in an up to five-year prison term and $5,000 fine—the same punishment for felony grand theft.

There are two other low-level felony theft offenses that can result in prison time in Florida, both involving theft of property valued below the $300 felony grand theft threshold. These offenses include petit theft as a third offense, and grand theft of a dwelling. In Florida, petit theft is either a first degree or second degree misdemeanor, depending on the value of the property involved. However, if a person commits any petit theft offense and has previously been convicted of two or more theft offenses as an adult or juvenile, it is considered a third degree felony, which can result in an up to five-year prison term and $5,000 fine—the same punishment for felony grand theft.

Theft of property valued at a minimum of $100 and $300 is also considered felony grand theft in the third degree if the property was taken from a “dwelling” or the “unenclosed curtilage of a dwelling,” which, according to Florida law, means “the enclosed land or grounds, and any outbuildings, that are directly and intimately adjacent to and connected with the dwelling and […] used in connection with that dwelling.” As a practical example, a person who steals property valued at $100 while they’re attending a party at someone’s home can be charged with felony grand theft of a dwelling.

Continue reading “Stuck in the 1980s: Time for Reform of Florida’s Felony Theft Threshold” from The Journal of the James Madison Institute.

Lauren Krisai

Lauren Krisai is director of criminal justice reform research at Reason Foundation.