The following questions are some of those commonly asked in a typical theft case in the Twelfth Judicial Circuit, which includes Sarasota and Manatee Counties.
Question: Do I need an attorney to represent me on my theft charge?
Answer: Ultimately, that will be up for you to decide. To begin with, anyone who either wants a trial or is facing jail time will almost certainly need an attorney. An attorney can also contact the prosecutors at an early stage in the proceedings, if there are facts or witnesses that need to be presented in your defense. An attorney can also assist you in the event that civil collection attempts are initiated against you by the alleged victim.
Question: Am I facing jail time on my Sarasota or Bradenton theft case?
Answer: It depends upon the facts of each case. If you have ever been convicted of a crime in any state, the likelihood of jail time increases, especially where that prior conviction is theft related. Any misdemeanor theft case in the state of Florida carries at least a potential 60 day jail sentence. In other misdemeanor cases that jail sentence increases to 1 year. A felony theft charge carries a potential 5 year state prison sentence. Other felony theft cases are so serious that the maximum jail sentence increases to 30 years in the state prison system.
Question: I received a call or letter from the theft victim’s attorney asking for money damages. What does this mean, and what can I do to prevent this?
Answer: A theft victim (for example Wal-Mart) in Florida has the right to what are known as “treble damages” if you are accused of theft. That means that the victim can ask you to pay a civil penalty up to three times the amount of the actual theft. Many Florida retailers hire law firms to pursue this action. In this case, your best option is to speak with an attorney who will explain what your rights are regarding these collection attempts. Under federal law, a person represented by an attorney cannot be directly contacted by a law firm or collection agency to pursue this debt.
Question: I have been falsely accused of theft, and I am not guilty. What are my options?
Answer: In Florida, you have the absolute right to a jury trial in this matter, which is a jury of six people. A jury verdict must be unanimous, which means to be found guilty all six jurors would have to agree upon your guilt. In the case of a jury trial, you always have the right to be represented by an attorney. Although you would have the right to be “pro se”, which means to represent yourself, this is usually an unwise decision, since the judge will require you to know and follow the Florida Rules of Evidence and Criminal Procedure. Your lack of legal training will not excuse you from these requirements.