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Auto Theft a Misdemeanor or a Federal Crime?

A 25-year-old suburban West Palm Beach man is behind bars this morning after allegedly stealing a car out of Palm Springs. Lee Smith faces charges of possession of marijuana and auto theft and is being held in the Palm Beach County Jail in lieu of $3,000 bail.

West Palm Beach Police arrested Smith around 8:30 p.m. Tuesday after he admitted to stealing a car with the keys in the ignition in a Burger King parking lot in Palm Springs. (read full story)

Florida Theft Laws

Florida laws use the legal term “theft” to describe a variety of property crimes, including larceny, stealing, misappropriation, conversion, and other offenses. In general, theft involves the unauthorized taking or use of another person’s property. In a theft case, the prosecutor must prove several elements of the crime.

The prosecutor must establish the defendant’s specific intent to take or use property belonging to another person. The defendant must have intended to temporarily or permanently deprive the owner of possession or use of the property. The prosecutor must show that the defendant had the criminal intent at the time when the defendant took or attempted to take the property.

Florida state laws distinguish between petit theft and grand theft. The type of theft determines whether the state will prosecute an offense as a misdemeanor or a felony. The type of theft often depends on the value of the property. Theft of property valued between $300 and $20,000 qualifies as grand theft in the third degree. Property valued between $20,000 and $100,000 becomes grand theft in the second degree, while property valued over $100,000 results in a charge of grand theft in the first degree. In addition, state laws require prosecution of grand theft in the first degree for a crime during which the defendant used a motor vehicle as an instrumentality during the commission of the crime, for a purpose other than using the motor vehicle as a getaway car. State laws also permit the prosecution of grand theft in the first degree when a defendant caused over $1,000 in damage to property or the premises while carrying out the theft.

In Florida, any theft that does not qualify as a felony prosecution according to state law becomes a petit theft charge prosecuted as a misdemeanor. If the property has a value between $100 and $300 and the defendant took the property from a place other than a dwelling or home, the charge increases to petit theft in the first degree.

Florida statutes explain that auto theft can be considered either a misdemeanor or a federal crime. Punishments under the law vary accordingly, but prosecutors must bring charges before expiration of the statute of limitations.

Florida Statute 775.15

Section 775.15 of the Florida code covers time limitations for prosecuting first- and second-degree misdemeanor and felony offenses. Limits for prosecution range from one to four years. The circumstances of the auto theft — crimes resulting in the death of another, for example — effect the limits.


Section 775.15 of the Florida code discusses certain conditions that must apply before the statute of limitations can be initiated. The first portion of the code suggests that if you are out of state for too long, the “period of limitation does not run.” It also explains that, if you remain in Florida, you must have a job and residence. Depending on circumstances surrounding the auto theft, the statute of limitations averages three years.

Florida §812.014: Grand theft of the 3rd degree & a felony of the 3rd degree if property stolen is a motor vehicle.

§817.52: Obtaining vehicles with intent to defraud, failing to return hired vehicle. Felony penalties.

§812.133: Carjacking. Felony in the 1st degree. Enhanced penalties for use of a deadly weapon.

West Palm Beach Petty and Grand Theft Defense Attorney

In Florida, the seriousness of a theft charge depends upon the amount taken. Theft of $300 or less is misdemeanor petty theft, which is punishable by up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. Theft or embezzlement of more than $300 is grand theft, a felony that may be subject to a mandatory minimum prison sentence of three or more years.

At the law firm of Andrew D. Stine, P.A., in West Palm Beach, we take a proactive approach in defending clients who have been charged with theft. Even a conviction for petty theft can be very detrimental to your future. A misdemeanor shoplifting conviction will result in a permanent criminal record. In addition, one petty theft conviction will build on another, and your third offense will be charged as a felony.

Many theft charges can be resolved through a diversion program called pre-trial intervention. If you want to take responsibility for the theft charge, we can take the money you would otherwise pay us and use it instead to pay restitution, fine, and court costs. Our fees for this would be less than defending you in a court trial, and we can often resolve the charge without you getting a criminal record. If we are successful in getting the charges dismissed, we can have your record sealed, so that if you are ever asked if you have been arrested for a misdemeanor or felony, you can confidently answer no.

Free consultation 24/7: Call West Palm Beach criminal defense lawyer Andrew D. Stine, P.A. at 561.880.4300. Se habla español.

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