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Theft in Texas

08 Jul

A car that has been burglarized. Bad for me, g...
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What Constitutes Theft in Texas?

The Texas Penal Code defines theft as taking someone else’s property without consent, either by deception or by physically stealing it. You don’t have to keep the property for it to be considered theft, but only long enough to deprive the owner of its value. And, if you take something, then return it for a reward, that is also theft under Texas law.

To charge you with theft, the police need to show that you acted with criminal intent, meaning you knew the property belonged to someone else and knew you didn’t have their permission to take it, and that you
actually have or had possession of the property. They can do by that using physical evidence, such as security camera video in a shoplifting case, or by statements from a witness, an accomplice, or you.

Types of Theft Under Texas Law

The four most common ways to commit misdemeanor theft or felony theft in Texas are:

  • Shoplifting – Taking items out of a store with the deliberate intention of not paying the store for the full value of the item. This includes taking, say, a shirt and leaving with it, or switching the tag on an
    expensive shirt with the tag on a less expensive one and paying the lower price at checkout.
  • Bad checks – Paying for an item on a closed account or an account that does not enough money to cover the amount of the check. If the check is written on a closed account, that alone is evidence of theft under Texas criminal law. If the check bounces, and you do not reimburse the merchant
    within 10 days of notification, then that is evidence of theft under the law.
  • General theft – Taking an item that belongs to someone else by any means when you do not have permission. Examples of this include taking a woman’s purse from her shopping cart when her back is turned, stealing copper from a construction site, or taking $20 from the cash register at work.
  • Buying/accepting stolen property – Taking possession of an item when you know the person selling or giving it to you is not the rightful owner. If you know a friend shoplifted an item from a store, then passed the item on to you, you have committed theft by taking it, whether you paid for it or it was a gift.

Penalties for theft in Texas

Amount Classification Penalties

Less than $50, or less than $20 if by check

  • Class C misdemeanor
  • A fine of not more than $500

$50 or more but less than $500, or $20 or more but less than $500 if by check

  • Class B misdemeanor
  • Not more than 180 days in a county jail and/or
  • a fine of not more than $2,000

$500 or more but less than $1,500

  • Class A misdemeanor
  • Not more than 1 year in a county jail and/or
  • a fine of not more than $4,000

$1,500 or more but less than $20,000

  • State jail felony
  • 180 days to 2 years in a state jail and/or
  • a fine of not more than $10,000

$20,000 or more but less than $100,000

  • Third-degree felony
  • 2 to 10 years in a state prison and/or
  • a fine of not more than $10,000

$100,000 or more but less than $200,000

  • Second-degree felony
  • 2 to 20 years in a state prison and/or
  • a fine of not more than $10,000

$200,000 or more

  • First-degree felony
  • 5 to 99 years in a state prison and/or
  • a fine of not more than $10,000

Those punishments can also be enhanced under certain conditions. For example, Class B and C misdemeanor theft charges increase one level if you have a previous theft conviction, and a Class A misdemeanor
becomes a state jail felony if you have two previous theft convictions.

Also, the theft of some items such as firearms or metals such as copper or aluminum are felonies no matter the actual value.

Shoplifting charges also automatically become more serious if you are caught using tools to defeat theft prevention devices, or if you are charged with organized retail theft, meaning you were working with others
to steal items for profit.

However, in all likelihood, if you are charged with simple theft by shoplifting and are convicted or enter a plea, you probably will receive only community service and fines, as long as the value is low and it’s a first or second offense. However, you are still stuck with a permanent criminal record which may never go away.

The fact of a permanent, public criminal record is the reason why most people hire a shoplifting defense attorney to fight the charges. Avoiding a criminal record in the internet age can save you tremendous
headaches in the future. It could prevent you from getting a job, a scholarship, or worse.

Civil Penalties for Shoplifting

The criminal shoplifting record for a conviction might not be the end of it, either.  A conviction for the criminal charge of theft frequently includes restitution to the victim, but Texas also has the Texas Theft Liability Act. This civil law allows the victims of theft to sue for damages and is separate from the criminal case.

The suits are typically used in shoplifting cases. The store will send you a letter demanding that you pay the value of the stolen item, as well as costs related to recovery.  The law allows the victim to collect actual damages, plus up to $1,000 against an individual or actual damages, plus up to $5,000 against the parents or guardians if the accused shoplifter is a minor.

You should not try to face either the criminal charge of theft or a civil suit in a shoplifting case without consulting a Texas criminal defense lawyer who knows how to defend shoplifting/theft offenses. We can fight the case against you by challenging the reliability of eyewitness or accomplice testimony, and by questioning the legality of any searches by police or admissions you may have made to them.

Seriousness of Theft Charges

In Texas, theft charges can run the gamut from a class C misdemeanor to a serious felony, based on the value of what was allegedly taken, whether force was used and whether the property was entered.  It is possible to face the legal equivalent of a traffic ticket or a charge that can lead to a life prison term.

The Texas theft statute is very broad.  The theft statute covers many types of criminal conduct involving the misuse of another’s property.  All of these crimes however, have one thing in common – that is, the taking of the property without the owner’s consent.  Examples of crimes that are covered by the Texas theft statute include shoplifting, writing bad checks or hot checks, receiving stolen property, possessing stolen property and auto theft.

Even a minor theft conviction can have a devastating impact on your future.  Do not make the mistake of believing that a misdemeanor theft charge is not a serious situation. Theft cases are crimes of moral turpitude.  That is, they are crimes that reflect on one’s character.  Shoplifting and the other theft charges, because they are crimes of moral turpitude, can have lifelong and far reaching consequenses.  Any misdemeanor or felony conviction for a theft charge will result in a permanent criminal record, even if you receive probation.  Since employers routinely conduct background checks, a theft conviction will make it much harder for you to find a good job.

Theft cases can become more serious crimes with the danger of harsher sentences depending on the facts and circumstances under which the alleged theft occurred. If you are accused of entering someone’s property with the intention of committing theft, you can be charged with burglary, a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Theft can also become a felony if it is alleged that force was used to take an item or money. Theft committed with a weapon is aggravated robbery, a felony that can result in a lifetime prison sentence.

At the Law Offices of Mark Morales and Associates we represent people facing all types of theft and theft related charges in Texas, including:

If you have any questions about what theft in Texas or have been charged with any kind of theft offense, feel free to visit us on Facebook and post a question, leave a comment or fill out a free case evaluation form with no obligation

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