Theft in Texas | Advice from a Fort Worth Theft Lawyer
Being arrested for theft can be devastating. Theft charges carry collateral consequences that affect a person’s future employment opportunities, education opportunities, and even the ability to sit on a jury. That’s why it’s extremely important to have an experienced lawyer represent you if you are facing a theft charge.
As defense attorneys, our goal for theft charges in Texas is three-fold.
- First, we strive to keep you out of jail.
- Second, and equally important, we seek to avoid a conviction from becoming a part of your criminal history.
- Finally, we seek an outcome that allows for an expunction after the criminal case is resolved.
What is a Theft in Texas?
The legal definition for “theft” in Texas is the “unlawful appropriation” of property with the intent to deprive the owner of property.” Like many states, Texas has a consolidated theft statute meaning that there is a single offense superseding separate offenses previously known as theft by false pretext, conversion, theft from the person, shoplifting, acquisition of property by threat, swindling, swindling by worthless check, embezzlement, extortion, receiving or concealing embezzled property and receiving or concealing stolen property. This is what we call the general theft statute. (Texas Penal Code Ann. §31.03).
What is Theft from a Person?
Regardless of the value of the item taken, under Penal Code 31.03(e)(4)(B) Theft from a Person is a state jail felony punishable by up to two years in state jail and up to a $10,000 fine.
Switching Price Tags is a Class A misdemeanor
The retail lobby got together and made the offense of switching price tags a Class A misdemeanor. This makes offenses that would generally be Class C or Class B theft charges and bumps them up to a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail. This offense is known as Fraudulent Destruction, Removal, or Concealment of Writing. You can find it in Penal Code Section 32.47. For more information about this charge, contact our office today and speak to an experienced criminal defense lawyer.
What is Unlawful Appropriation for Theft Charges in Texas?
Pursuant to Penal Code 31.03 (b), appropriation of property is unlawful if:
(1) it is without the owner’s effective consent;
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(2) the property is stolen and the actor appropriates the property knowing it was stolen by another; or
(3) property in the custody of any law enforcement agency was explicitly represented by any law enforcement agent to the actor as being stolen and the actor appropriates the property believing it was stolen by another.
The simplest way to explain theft is that you took or maintained control over property that someone else had a greater right to possess without their effective consent.
What is Effective Consent?
Effective consent includes consent by a person legally authorized to act for the owner. Consent is not effective if:
(A) induced by deception or coercion;
(B) given by a person the actor knows is not legally authorized to act for the owner;
(C) given by a person who by reason of youth, mental disease or defect, or intoxication is known by the actor to be unable to make reasonable property dispositions;
(D) given solely to detect the commission of an offense; or
(E) given by a person who by reason of advanced age is known by the actor to have a diminished capacity to make informed and rational decisions about the reasonable disposition of property.
Texas Penal Code 31.03 is the general theft statute. This covers the most common types of thefts including offenses like shoplifting.
Theft Offense Levels in Texas
Most of the states, including Texas, classify theft offenses according to the value of the stolen property or services and sometimes even by the type of property that was stolen. Prosecutors may rely on fair market value of the property or its replacement value. (Penal Code Section 31.08)
|under $100||Class C Misdemeanor||$500 fine|
|100||750||Class B Misdemeanor||Up to 180 days in jail|
|750||2500||Class A Misdemeanor||Up to 1 year in jail|
|2500||30000||State Jail Felony||180 days - 2 years state jail|
|30000||150000||Third Degree Felony||2-10 years in prison|
|150000||300000||Second Degree Felony||2-20 years in prison|
|300000+||First Degree Felony||5-99 years or life|
Theft with Priors
Thefts can be enhanced in several ways. A Class C theft with a prior theft is going to get enhanced to a Class B misdemeanor and subject you to jail time instead of just a monetary fine. Two prior convictions can turn a misdemeanor theft into a felony. A theft with two prior conviction where the value of the new alleged stolen property is less than $2,500 is a State Jail Felony with a punishment range of 180 days two years in State Jail. In other words, if you steal a packet of gum when you have two priors theft convictions, you could go to jail for two years. This is just another reason why it’s so important to have an experienced attorney if you have been accused of theft.
(Penal Code Section 31.03(e)(2)(B)
Civil Liability for Theft
In addition to criminal penalties, a person who commits theft (including shoplifting) in the state of Texas may be civilly liable to the theft victim under the Texas Theft Liability Act. Victim of theft may recover a monetary award that includes actual damages caused by the theft (such as retail value of the item if not returned in sellable condition) and a civil penalty of no more than $1000. If the person who commits theft is a minor, then minor’s legal guardian may be civilly liable under the Texas Theft Liability Act, but monetary recovery is limited to actual damages and the cap is at $5,000.
Defenses for Theft
The two most common defenses are consent and intent. Generally, a defendant could claim that he or she had (or believed he or she had) the owner’s permission or consent to use the vehicle on the instance in question. If that is true, then there is no crime. Defendant could also claim that he or she did not intend to deprive the owner of the vehicle, in which case the offense would be unauthorized use of a vehicle, not theft.
Common issues in investigation and prosecution of theft are that the police must show that the offender knew they took someone else’s property without permission or that they have or had possession of the property. If you have been arrested or indicted on a Theft Charge, call our team of Criminal Defense Attorneys at 817-203-2220.
What is theft of trade secret?
Under Penal Code 31.05, Theft of a Trade Secret in Texas in a third degree felony. “Trade secret” means the whole or any part of any scientific or technical information, design, process, procedure, formula, or improvement that has value and that the owner has taken measures to prevent from becoming available to persons other than those selected by the owner to have access for limited purposes.
Can I get my theft case dismissed? | Fort Worth Theft Lawyer
One of the most commons questions our lawyers get from someone who has been arrested for a theft charge is whether the case can be dismissed. As defense attorneys, our goal for first-time offenders is to not only seek the best outcome but to find an outcome where even the arrest can be expunged off the person’s record. This may be achieved through certain reductions, diversion programs, or through dismissals.
Our attorneys have had over 100 theft cases dismissed.
Call (817)203-2220 if you have been charged with theft in North Texas.
Tarrant County Theft Diversion Program
If you are 24 or under and this is your first time to be arrested for theft, contact our office and speak to an experienced attorney to determine if you’re eligible to enter the Deferred Prosecution Program.
You can commit theft in the State of Texas when you take something that does not belong to you, without consent or permission of the owner and without any other legal justification for doing so and at the time of the offense you have no intention of giving the property back to its rightful owner.
- For example: If a fleeing criminal hot-wires a car in order to use it as a getaway car and then abandons it he has committed theft.
Ways to Commit Theft
It does not matter how long you keep the property, instead what matters is that you took the property from its rightful owner. “Owner” includes anyone with title to the property, possession of the property (whether lawful or not) or with a greater right to actual care, custody, control or management of the property than the defendant. The word “appropriates” refers in part to acquisition or exercise of control over the property, which should be distinguished from destroying of property.
Possession of Stolen Property
Receiving Stolen Property-Police officers do not always catch the thief in the act of stealing, instead they find suspects in possession of property that has been recently stolen. What happens next? It is possible that there is a reasonable explanation of why a person is in possession of stolen property or it is also possible that the suspect actually stole the property and kept it in her possession. If the suspect received stolen property and knew that the property was stolen, Texas Penal Code allows for that offense to be consolidated into the general theft statute. (§31.02)
Theft by Deception
Theft by Deception is similar to the basic theft charge, except that the individual employed some deceptive act or used deceptive words, which were relied upon by the victim in making the decision to turn over their property. For example, if someone makes a representation that they own a construction business and takes money from a victim to perform a job they never intended to complete, then they could be prosecuted for theft by deception. It doesn’t matter whether the victim voluntarily gave money to the defendant, what matters is that the victim relied on the defendant’s representations. This type of theft opens more defensive theories for the defendant because now the defendant can go more into detail about the formation of the contract, expectation of the parties, partial completion of any promises and the victim’s state of mind.
Theft of Services
A theft of services allegation is typically an accusation that a person received some sort of service without paying for it. This can range from roofing work to entering a contract to pay for services or products. It is also the charge that prosecutors use when a person has taken internet, cable, or electricity without payment.
Texas Penal Code 31.04 provides that a person commits theft of service if they secure the performance of a service by threat or deception with the intent to avoid payment for the service.
This also includes theft of personal property that was obtained through a written rental agreement.
Theft of Services Statutory Defense
A defense is available if the service provider accepted a post-dated check but then presented the check before the agreed date. There are many other defenses that may apply that are not statutory defenses. A skilled defense attorney will be able to walk you through the other potential defenses that could apply.
Theft by Extortion
Theft by Extortion is expressly consolidated into the crime of theft, however this offense requires the consent to appropriation be induced by coercion or threat in order to be considered an offense. (§31.02) “Coercion” means among other things, a threat, however communicated: (A) to commit an offense; (B) to inflict bodily injury in the future on the person threatened or another; (C) to accuse a person of any offense; (D) to expose a person to hatred, contempt or ridicule; (E) to harm the credit or business repute of any person; (F) or take or withhold action as a public servant, or to cause a public servant to take or withhold action. Texas explicitly requires appropriation of the property in order for extortion to exist, because the theft statute requires an appropriation.
Organized Retail Theft
This type of theft specifically seeks to punish conduct related to organized retail theft. The following conduct can be prosecuted:
- If someone receives this type of stolen property;
- Possesses such property;
- Hides the property for another person;
- Stores such stolen retail merchandise for themselves or another person;
- Barters the merchandise for other property;
- Sells the stolen retail merchandise; or
- Simply disposes of the retail merchandise.
Punishment for Organized Retail Theft
The punishment for this type of theft or other involvement in stolen retail merchandise depends on the value of the stolen property. The consequences range from a Class B misdemeanor to a first-degree felony. The breakdown is as follows:
- Where the value of the property is less than $100, it is a Class B misdemeanor punishable by a fine up to $2,000 or up to 180 days in jail or both;
- Where the value of the merchandise is more than $100 and less than $750, the conduct is a Class A misdemeanor, which is punishable by a fine up to $4,000 or up to one year in jail, or both;
- $750 to $2500 worth of stolen merchandise is considered a state jail felony, which is punishable by a fine up to $10,000, and up to two years in jail, with a minimum jail sentence of 180 days;
Contact an Experienced Theft Lawyer
If you or a loved one has been accused of theft, call us at (817) 203-2220 for a complimentary strategy session. Our team of former prosecutors and Board Certified Criminal Lawyers are here to help. During this call, an experienced theft attorney will:
- Discuss the facts of your case;
- Discuss the legal issues involved, including the direct and collateral consequences of the allegation; and
- Discuss the defenses that apply and in general terms discuss our approach to your case.
You can also contact us online and an attorney will respond:
By: A. Soria
Title: Thank you for getting my theft case dismissed!
I just want to say thank you to Attorney Benson and the staff at Varghese & Summersett for helping me get through my case. I was put into a situation in which I was falsely accused of theft in a supermarket and with the help of Attorney Benson, I was able to clear my name and have my case dismissed. Throughout the entire ordeal, Mr. Benson made it clear to me that he would do everything in his power to assure that this injustice being made against me would be taken care of. I am so glad that I made the right decision in choosing Attorney Benson to represent me. I have nothing but respect for Mr. Benson and want to wish him, along with his kind staff many blessings. Thank you, for you are truly an angel in disguise.