An Unusual Petit Theft Case

I recently favorably resolved a petit theft case with a most unusual fact pattern.  I’m discussing it here to highlight how important it is for your criminal defense lawyer to investigate all the facts to get you the best possible result in your case.

The police report stated my client had gone to a beaches area bar, had some drinks and failed to pay for them.  He was then issued a Notice to Appear for the crime of petit theft.  Seems like a cut and dried case, right?  Not so fast!  Rather, as is often the case, the arrest narrative in this matter omitted several facts extremely helpful in defending my client against his charges.

My investigation of the matter revealed critical facts not contained in the Notice to Appear narrative. To begin with, the day of his arrest, my client was first contacted via text message by a friend who stated he would pay for drinks that night if my client would go out.  My client happily accepted the offer in a reply text message.  What initially looked like the beginning of a fun evening for my client ended with him needing a criminal defense lawyer. 

My client and his friend subsequently met at the bar.  As is customary at bars, the bartender required a credit card to start a tab.  The friend provided his card.  After several drinks, my client lost his friend in the crowded bar.  When he tried to leave, my client was asked to pay for the tab, as his friend’s card was declined when processed.  In reliance on his friend’s representations of financial responsibility for the evening, my client had neither cash nor a credit card with him that evening.  When my client explained his predicament, he was given a Notice to Appear for petit theft.

To successfully prove my client committed the crime of petit theft, the State had the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that he knowingly obtained the drinks at the bar with the intent to deprive the bar of its ownership rights of those drinks.  In this case, however, the friend assumed financial responsibility for the drinks through both his text message and by tendering his credit / debit card pursuant to the request of the bartender / server.  My client obtained his drinks in good faith and in reasonable reliance on his friend paying for them.  My client therefore lacked the critical element of intent to deprive the bar of its ownership interests in the beverages.

Further thorough investigation revealed that, unbeknownst to my client,  as he was inside the bar looking for his friend,  the friend was outside in the bar parking lot being arrested for disorderly intoxication and resisting arrest.  Unfortunately, the officer who effected the arrest of the friend outside the bar was apparently unaware he had left the bar with his tab unresolved.  Otherwise the matter could have, and should have, been properly resolved at that time by adding petit theft to the friend’s arrest charges instead of charging my client with a crime.

Therefore, there were actually two victims from the friend’s conduct that night – the bar and my client. After being provided these additional critical facts demonstrating a lack of criminal intent by my client the State properly dropped the charges.

All theft based offenses, from misdemeanor petit theft to felony grand theft, can adversely affect your future employment, professional and educational opportunities if not properly resolved.  Accordingly, if you or a loved one has been arrested for a theft offense, you should contact a Jacksonville criminal defense attorney experienced with how best to demonstrate your innocence.  Doing so can help ensure you get the best outcome in your theft case in Duval, Clay, Nassau, Baker, Bradford, Putnam and St. Johns Counties.


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