New Bill Seeks to Increase Penalties for Organized Retail Theft

February 17, 2022 Criminal Defense, News & Announcements

Florida lawmakers are seeking to revise existing penalties for organized retail theft through HB 1511. This bill, spearheaded by Representative Chuck Clemmons of Jonesville, seeks to prohibit certain retail theft at multiple locations within a specified timeframe. Clemmons states that such crime is  “becoming a larger and larger problem not only in Florida but across the nation.” Its companion bill, SB 1534, unanimously passed the Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil justice and cleared Senate Appropriations. On March 8, the House voted 80-36 to approve SB 1534 – leaving it to be approved by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

A National Issue

The issue is so prominent in Florida that in December 2021, Attorney General Ashley Moody launched the Florida Organized Retail Crime Exchange, a task force and interactive database used to spot trends when it comes to organized retail thefts, identify perpetrators, and take down organized retail rings. Ultimately, “the database is designed to bridge the gaps between retailers, law enforcement and prosecutors by allowing shareable, searchable information on incidents of theft statewide.” This task force has generated almost 60 cases involving 250 individuals who are suspected of engaging in organized retail crimes. But Florida is not alone when it comes to this ever-growing issue. According to the  2021 Retail Security Survey, “69% of retailers said they had seen an increase in organized retail crime over the past year, [citing] reasons such as COVID-19, policing, changes to sentencing guidelines and the growth of online marketplaces for the increase in organized retail crime activity.” Supporters believe the measure discourages “boosting” which is “the basic act of walking in a store and stealing items without getting caught.” Boosting can include pocketing smaller items or walking out with a cart full of unpaid items with the hopes you will not be questioned. 

Details of the Bill

The bill seeks to amend Section 812.015 of the Florida Statutes by adding a provision that makes it a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, a $5,000 fine, and five years in prison, to engage in five or more retail thefts within a 30-day period and steal 10 items or more from at least two different locations. Specifically, the amendment reads a person is guilty of a third-degree felony if:

Individually, or in concert with one or more other persons, commits five or more retail thefts within a 30-day period and in committing such thefts obtains or uses 10 or more items of merchandise, and the number of items stolen during each theft is aggregated within the 30-day period to determine the total number of items stolen, regardless of the value of such merchandise, and two or more of the thefts occur at different physical merchant locations.

The bill also increases the penalty for organized retail theft to a second-degree felony, punishable by up to fifteen years in prison, a $10,000 fine, and fifteen years’ probation, if the individual commits five or more retail thefts within a 30-day period and steals 20 or more items from at least two different locations. Under the bill, both organized retail theft offenses would be added to the Criminal Punishment code which ranks the severity offenses under Section 921.0022 of the Florida Statutes.

Contentious Opinions

Organizations are quite conflicted when it comes to whether or not the bill does more harm than good. The bill has garnished support from the Florida Retail Federation, The National Federation of Independent Business, and the Florida Sheriffs Association who seek for organized retail crime to be punished more severely. However, the bill has received pushback from the ACLU and criminal justice reform advocates who believe the bill takes a step in the wrong direction when it comes to sentencing. Specifically, Representative Michael Grieco of North Bay Village called the bill unnecessary, stating, “I think we’re going in the wrong direction if we’re going to be increasing penalties for non-violent offenses . . . there are plenty of tools in the toolbox.” Further, critics have stated that the bill moves in the wrong direction by penalizing poor people, “especially after Florida just approved raising the felony theft threshold to $750,” as it means teenagers caught repeatedly stealing items like school supplies could face felony charges. If enacted into law, the increased penalties would take effect October 1, 2022.

Written by Sarah Kamide

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