Shoplifting is a crime of significant concern in Florida. Although individual cases tend to involve very little value, in the aggregate retailers lose tens of billions of dollars each year to shoplifting. The following is what you need to know if you find yourself charged with shoplifting in Florida.
There has been shoplifting as long as there has been retail shops. The first instance known to English common law was prosecuted in the 16th century by individuals known as “lifters” (women who shoplifted were known as “Amazons” or “roaring girls”). The following century saw shopkeepers beginning to display their wares in window displays and glass cases, which was followed by an increase in shoplifting.
The end of the 17th century saw the English Parliament pass The Shoplifting Act, which provided strict penalties for shoplifters. Individuals who were caught shoplifting goods worth more than five shillings were subject to transportation to North America or Australia or even public hanging. However, juries often found these punishments unnecessarily strict and intentionally undervalued the goods stolen in order to avoid handing down such harsh sentences. Parliament lessened the sentences for shoplifting in 1832.
In Florida, the act of shoplifting is penalized by laws against retail theft. As such, it is defined as the taking away of merchandise, property, money, or negotiable documents from a store. Also included in the definition is fraudulently altering price tags and removing shopping carts from the premises of the store that owns them.
The penalties for shoplifting in Florida largely depend upon the value of the goods stolen by the defendant.
If the value of the goods is less than $100, the crime is petit theft of the second degree, which is punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a fine of up to $500. However, if the defendant has prior convictions of theft, a conviction moves from a second degree misdemeanor to a first degree misdemeanor. Two or more prior theft convictions makes the charge a third degree felony.
If the value of the goods stolen is between $101 and $300, the crime is petit theft of the first degree, which is punishable by up to a year in jail, up to one year of probation, and a fine of up to $1,000.
If the value of the goods is between $301 and $5,000, the crime is grand theft in the third degree, which is a third degree felony. The punishment here is up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.
Typically retailers have limited rights to detain those they have probable cause to believe have committed a shoplifting offense. Termed “shopkeeper’s privilege,” store owners may detain for a reasonable time and investigate suspected shoplifting instances themselves.
Generally retailers must insure that the investigation is carried out on or near the store’s premises, that the belief that shoplifting took place is reasonable, only reasonable and non-deadly force is used in apprehending the suspected shoplifter, and the detention lasts only long enough to reasonably investigate the facts of the situation. As long as these conditions are met, a shopkeeper is typically immune from civil and criminal penalties for their actions.