Stephans v. State Illustrates Why State Has the Burden to Prove Theft Charges in Jacksonville

A recent case out of Nevada shows how mistakes can be made in Jacksonville theft cases and why holding the state to its burden of proof beyond all reasonable doubt is critical.

Jacksonville criminal defense lawyers have seen many state prosecutors attempt to use weak or tainted evidence in the furtherance of their case. It’s unfortunate that the state has attorneys who will try to get by and strip away a person’s liberty with less-than-credible evidence and witnesses.
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In Stephans v. State, that’s exactly what happened. In this case, two men were charged with stealing six bottle of men’s cologne from a department store.

But at trial, the state didn’t bring in a store manager, cologne distributor or anyone who could have confirmed the value of the cologne. Instead, the state relied on, over the objection of the defense, a loss prevention officer to prove the crime of theft as well as the value of what was stolen.

The witness testified that the stolen goods he recovered had price tags adding up to $477. But neither the price tags, nor duplicates from the store, were entered into evidence. In Nevada, in order to prove grand larceny, the state must show the value is $250 or more. And based only on the word of the loss prevention officer, a jury convicted the men of grand larceny and burglary and conspiracy to commit larceny.

The Nevada Supreme Court reversed the decision, ruling that the judge abused his discretion in allowing the loss prevention officer to testify. The man was given a new trial on the grand larceny charge.

What many people may not consider in theft cases is that not only must the state prove beyond all reasonable doubt that a person is guilty of committing the theft, but they must prove the value stolen in order to show what type of theft was committed.

Florida Statutes 812.014 lays out the definitions of theft and grand theft. Everyone knows what theft is — simply the stealing of property in order to benefit from it.

But the values of what is stolen vary and can determine whether a person faces misdemeanor theft or felony theft. The law lays out many different scenarios that can turn a theft charge into a grand theft charge, including situations where property is stolen from emergency vehicles or loading docks.

But what applies in most cases is simply the range of values for different levels of theft in Florida.

First-degree grand theft: $50,000 or more stolen from a dock; $100,000 or more stolen from a law enforcement semi-trailer and if while committing the theft uses a vehicle

Second-degree grand theft: $20,000 to $100,000 in property; less than $50,000 from a dock; $300 or more of emergency medical equipment or law enforcement equipment

Third-degree grand theft: $300 to $5,000; $5,000 to $10,000; $10,000 to $20,000; a will; firearm, vehicle, farm animal, fire extinguisher, citrus, stop sign, ammonia or drugs

Petit theft: $100 to $300
As you can see, the number of things that can be stolen to qualify a person as a felony offender is wide-ranging. There are more specific definitions, which are too long to list. But the point here is that proving value is critical. The state must have concrete evidence that not only the defendant committed the crime, but also that the value hits the statutory limits in order to prove which level of theft is committed.

And the differences are staggering. A first-degree grand theft is punishable by up to 30 years in prison, but second-degree is punishable by 15 years. A third-degree felony is a five-year prison sentence, while a misdemeanor is up to a year in jail.


The Forbess Law Firm has been aiding clients who face criminal charges in Jacksonville for more than a decade and is here to provide aggressive criminal defense to anyone accused of a crime. If you or a loved one requires a Jacksonville criminal defense lawyer, contact our firm today. We are available through our website or by calling us at 904-634-0900.

More Blog Entries:

Wal-Mart Video Game Thief On the Loose in Fleming Island: September 30, 2011
Jacksonville Man Pleads Guilty to Grand Theft in $9,300 Brake Job Case: August 1, 2011