It was revealed today that a $5,000 pair of shoes signed by local celebrity Hulk Hogan was stolen from his fancy beach store. It was also revealed that during the theft, possibly in a ruse to divert attention, a statue of Hulk Hogan was shattered to pieces. Oh, these are desperate times in Tampa Bay, Florida, yet of one thing we may be certain, Hulk Hogan was not in the store at the time otherwise the perpetrator would have been bagged and body slammed.
|Charlie Chaplin eats his Shoe|
If the culprits are captured and charged, what is a fair way to assess the value of the stolen shoes? In Florida a third degree grand theft charge can be levied for any object valued at $300 or more, if less than $300, then the appropriate charge would be a misdemeanor petit theft. What if something of even greater value had been taken from the store such as Hulk Hogan’s bandanna rather than just an old pair of his signed shoes? If the value of the bandanna was more than $20,000 then the theft would be assessed as a grand theft second degree felony.
The higher the offense charged the more likely it is that jail will be ordered as punishment. And as you can see by how the charges are defined, it is the value of the property stolen that often dictates whether a case is resolved with or without prison time in Tampa Bay Florida.
Yet the fact that Hulk Hogan’s beach store sells his signed shoes for $5,500 doesn’t necessarily mean they have an assessable value of $5,500. In fact, the thief may have thought the value so absurd that the shoes were taken as a joke. Value is more than what a victim says it is. The investigating officers and the Pinellas State Attorney’s Office should look to find a reasonable actual value. One way to do that would be to make inquiry’s from the store as to how many pairs of signed shoes have been sold and if so, for how much. In far too many grand theft cases law enforcement fails to make a complete investigate of value, because their focus is on solving the crime. Also, officers or prosecutors will add further charges such as scheme to defraud in an effort to force defendant’s to plead guilty.
But what about the possible criminal mischief charge against the thief for that shattered statue of Hulk Hogan? Like theft charges, criminal mischief charges are based on value, but with criminal mischief it is based on the actual value of the object destroyed or the value to repair an object. Making a calculation of actual value is arguable and problematic. Is it merely replacement value or is it something more, say the value of the statue to the Tampa Bay community – priceless or valueless? And if the statue of Hogan is repairable there’d still need to be an assessment of any value lost after the repair compared to the value before the destruction.
Recently in Miami, Florida a museum’s pottery piece on loan from China was intentionally destroyed by an art protestor. Upon the vandal’s arrest the investigating officer was unable to ferret out from the museum staff what the actual value of the pottery actually was, so he simply wrote one million dollars in his police report causing sensational international press reports. The actual value turned out to be assessed for much less, but the potter in China must be smiling.
As you can see in grand theft cases as well as criminal mischief cases value is often an elastic notion. It’s important that a lawyer be prepared to exploit value weaknesses with expert testimony in order to have a felony or misdemeanor charge reduced or dismissed based on actual value.