TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WFLA) – New changes to the state’s criminal justice system took effect Monday.
The new laws are the result of a multi-year effort by criminal justice advocates to reform what they’ve described as outdated laws in Florida. One of the biggest victories scored by reformers in the 2019 session raises the felony theft threshold from $300 to $750.
“So that the punishment matches the crime more appropriately for modern times,” said Scott McCoy with the Southern Poverty Law Center. “That hadn’t been raised since the 80’s.”
While reformers are happy to see the threshold raised, they initially wanted to see it set at $1,000 or even $1,500. The $750 limit was a compromise reached with retailers who worried raising the threshold would encourage thieves to steal higher priced items.
“Criminals are very smart,” said James Miller with the Florida Retail Federation. “They know what that theft threshold is and they steal just up to that limit, that way they’re quickly back out on the streets.”
Reform groups push back against that concept.
“If you steal something $750 and below you’re still committing a misdemeanor. It’s still a crime. You can still go to jail for up to a year,” said McCoy.
The Florida Retail Federation says part of the reason it supported the final bill is because it also extends the aggregation period for felony theft from 48 hours to 30 days.
That means if a thief steals $750 over a one month period, they’ll still be charged with a felony.
“We’re hopeful and confident this will help eliminate a lot of the organized retail crime rings,” said Miller.
Criminal justice reform groups hope the new law is only the first step.
Even at $750, Florida’s felony theft threshold remains the lowest in the South Eastern United States.
Alabama, South Carolina and Georgia all have felony theft thresholds set at more than $1,200.