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What Needs to Be Proven in a Theft Case?

March 28, 2024
By The Wiseman Law Firm

Shoplifting, a widespread criminal activity, involves the unauthorized possession of goods from a retail establishment without providing payment. In Florida, like numerous other states, the criteria needed to achieve a conviction for shoplifting are clearly established. For a successful prosecution of shoplifting in Florida, it’s crucial for prosecutors to furnish particular evidence that substantiates the fundamental components of this offense. 

To convict someone of shoplifting in Florida, the prosecution must typically present evidence that the accused intentionally took merchandise with the clear intent not to pay for it. This evidence can range from surveillance footage showing the act, eyewitness testimonies, or possession of stolen items at the time of arrest. A criminal defense attorney at The Wiseman Law Firm may challenge the prosecution’s evidence by questioning the reliability of surveillance videos or the credibility of witnesses. We aim to cast doubt on the prosecution’s case, leveraging any ambiguity or inconsistencies to the benefit of our client’s case. 

Types of Evidence Needed to Prove a Theft Case 

The following are types of evidence needed to prove a defendant is guilty of theft in Florida: 

Intent to Deprive

A pivotal aspect of a shoplifting case is demonstrating the accused’s deliberate aim to take store items without intending to pay. The court usually examines several evidence types to affirm this intention: 

  • Surveillance Footage: Many retail locations use security cameras that might record the suspect’s behavior, offering visual proof of their intent. This might include footage of the individual hiding items, avoiding cashier areas, or trying to exit without payment.
  • Witness Statements: Testimonies from employees or security staff who noticed questionable conduct can also be pivotal. They can recount the suspect’s actions and any remarks made that suggest a plan to steal.

Even if the prosecution has access to certain evidence, it does not necessarily mean that you will be found guilty of the crime, as several defense strategies may challenge the validity or strength of evidence. 

Committing the Offense

For a conviction, it must be proven that the shoplifting act occurred. This evidence often includes:

  • Physical Evidence: Items taken serve as tangible proof of the offense. Items found with the suspect or discarded can be used in court.
  • Direct Witnesses: Testimonies from those who saw the theft happen, detailing how the suspect hid merchandise or their apprehension, are crucial.

In Florida, the value of the stolen goods is key to the charge’s severity, distinguishing between minor and major theft. Evidence for this includes:

  • Pricing Evidence: Tags or receipts can help ascertain the stolen goods’ value, impacting the theft’s classification under Florida law.
  • Inventory Data: Records from the store can verify the worth of stolen items, especially if the merchandise was damaged or cannot be sold.

Evidence might also include actions to bypass security measures, such as removing security tags, indicating a clear intent to steal. 

Admissions of Guilt

Statements of confession, whether spoken or written, are potent evidence in shoplifting charges. This includes confessions to store staff or law enforcement. 

Prosecutors in Florida need to present solid evidence showing the suspect’s intention to steal, the theft act, the value of stolen goods, and any efforts to defeat security measures. A defense attorney at The Wiseman Law Firm must scrutinize the evidence against their clients, developing strong defenses to counter the prosecution.

Defense Strategies for a Theft Case 

For individuals accused of theft, the consequences of a conviction can be severe, making it essential to explore every available avenue for defense. The following are several strategies that your defense attorney may employ to protect your legal rights and potentially secure a favorable outcome:

Challenging the Evidence

One of the most straightforward defense strategies involves questioning the reliability and legality of the evidence presented by the prosecution. This can include disputing the accuracy of surveillance footage, the credibility of witness testimonies, or the integrity of physical evidence. If evidence was obtained in violation of your rights, it might be possible to have it excluded from the trial altogether.

Mistake of Fact

A defense based on a mistake of fact argues that the defendant had a reasonable belief that led to a misunderstanding regarding the ownership or permission to use the item. If it can be demonstrated that the defendant genuinely believed they had the right to the property, this could negate the intent necessary for a theft conviction.

Lack of Intent

Since intent is a crucial element in theft cases, demonstrating that the defendant lacked the intent to steal can be a powerful defense. This could involve showing that the taking of property was accidental due to confusion or the result of miscommunication.

Return of Property

While not a defense to the act of theft itself, demonstrating that the defendant made efforts to return the property can sometimes play a role in mitigating the situation, especially in cases where restitution can be made to the victim.


Entrapment is when an individual is induced to commit a crime they wouldn’t have otherwise committed, usually by law enforcement. If a defendant can prove that they were persuaded into committing theft by someone seeking to arrest them for the crime, this defense could be applicable.


Claiming duress involves arguing that the defendant committed the act of theft under immediate threat of serious harm or force from another party. This defense acknowledges the act but removes culpability due to the coercive circumstances.

Insufficient Evidence

A defense attorney may also argue the prosecution failed to meet the necessary burden of proof. If the evidence does not conclusively establish that the defendant committed theft, this could lead to acquittal.

Use of Expert Witnesses

In some cases, expert witnesses can be called upon to challenge the prosecution’s narrative or to support the defense’s version of events, particularly regarding the value of stolen items or the defendant’s mental state.

Each theft case is unique, with its own set of facts and circumstances. A skilled defense attorney will evaluate the specifics of the case to determine the most effective defense strategy, aiming to protect your reputation and achieve the best possible outcome.

Speak With a Theft Defense Lawyer at The Wiseman Law Firm

Facing theft charges in Florida can be stressful, with the potential for severe consequences if convicted. However, you don’t have to navigate this challenging time alone. An experienced Florida criminal defense lawyer at The Wiseman Law Firm is your strongest ally, offering in-depth legal guidance, strategic defense planning, and unwavering support throughout the legal process. 

By meticulously analyzing the evidence against you and advocating fiercely on your behalf, we help protect your rights and work toward the best possible resolution of your case. Contact our office today for a free consultation at (407) 420-4647 or fill out a contact form.

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