What is Theft in Texas?
The Penal Code defines theft in Texas as the unlawful appropriation of property with the intent to deprive the owner. In other words, taking something without the owner’s permission. While this sounds straightforward, there are more than a dozen sections in the penal code that outline ways in which you can be charged with theft in Texas.
Is Theft a Misdemeanor or Felony in Texas?
Whether or not theft is a felony or misdemeanor in Texas depends primarily on the amount in controversy. If the amount is greater than $2,500, the offense is a felony. A misdemeanor theft case can also be enhanced to a felony theft charge if the person accused has two or more prior theft convictions.
What is the Punishment for Theft in Texas?
The level of offense – and therefore the punishment for theft – in Texas depends on the value of the loss or attempted loss. The offense level is set out in the Texas Theft Value Ladder:
Texas Theft Ladder
|Class C Misdemeanor
|Class B Misdemeanor
|Up to 180 days in jail
|Class A Misdemeanor
|Up to 1 year in jail
|State Jail Felony
|180 days – 2 years state jail
|Third Degree Felony
|2-10 years in prison
|Second Degree Felony
|2-20 years in prison
|First Degree Felony
|5-99 years or life
Being arrested for theft can be life-changing. Theft charges carry collateral consequences that affect a person’s future employment, education opportunities, and even the ability to sit on a jury. That’s why it’s extremely important to have an experienced Fort Worth theft lawyer represent you if you are facing a theft charge.
Our Fort Worth theft lawyers will help you navigate the criminal justice system and explain your legal options. We will thoroughly review the circumstances surrounding your case and work to build a compelling defense.
As experienced defense attorneys, our goals for theft charges are three-fold.
- First, we strive to keep you out of jail. Most people tell us the hours and days following arrest were among the worst in their lives.
- 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.
When Can You Be Arrested for Committing Theft in Texas?
You can be arrested for committing theft in Texas if you take something that does not belong to you – without the owner’s permission and without any legal justification – and had no intention of giving it back. This can range from shoplifting a candy bar to stealing a trade secret.
It’s important to point out that it doesn’t 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.
How is the Value of the Stolen Item Determined?
Most 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 – such as a driver’s license, ballot, copper, or exotic livestock. To determine value, prosecutors rely on fair market value of the property or its replacement value at the time of the offense or a reasonable time after the theft.
For more information, please reference Texas Penal Code Section 31.08.
Besides the possibility of jail time and fines, people convicted of theft may also be ordered to pay restitution. A theft conviction could also impact their ability to vote, obtain a job, or get into a college. A Fort Worth theft lawyer at our firm will explain the direct and indirect consequences of a theft conviction and will fight for the best possible outcome.
What are the best defenses to a theft charge in Texas?
There are a number of ways to attack a theft allegation.
Lack of Intent
There might be an argument you did not intend to steal the item, and that the alleged theft was a mistake or misunderstanding. This defense requires showing that you had no intent to deprive the owner of their property permanently.
Surprisingly, consent is sometimes a defense. If the owner of the property gave you permission to take or use the item, you may be able to argue that you had consent and therefore did not commit theft.
Duress or coercion
If you were forced or threatened to commit the theft by someone else, you may be able to use duress or coercion as a defense.
If the prosecution does not have enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed theft, you may be able to argue that the case should be dismissed.
If you can show that you were not the person who committed the theft, this may be a viable defense.
What is the Consolidated Theft Statute in Texas?
Like many states, Texas has a consolidated theft statute, meaning many common theft offenses in Texas – including stealing from a person, property or services – have been consolidated into one “Theft” statute. In the past, many theft crimes were separated into different offenses in the Texas Penal Code, including theft by false pretext, conversion by a bailee, 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. Now all of these offenses are consolidated into the general theft statute. In other words, all of the crimes listed above constitute “theft.” It’s important to point out, however, that there are still some specialized theft offenses, some of which are listed below.
Applicable statute: Texas Penal Code Ann. §31.03.
Theft allegations are also often made against juveniles. If you are looking for a juvenile defense attorney, contact Lisa Herrick at our office.
What are Common Types of Theft?
There are numerous types of theft under Texas law. Here’s a look at some common ways to be accused of theft:
Switching Price Tags
Price tag switching occurs when an individual attempts to purchase an item at a discounted price or return the item for more than it it is worth by tampering with the price tag. In the eyes of lawmakers, switching price tags is equivalent to shoplifting or taking money from the register – but that wasn’t always the case. On Sept. 1, 2019, the 86th Texas Legislature passed House Bill 427, making the punishment for price tag switching the same as shoplifting or property theft. Prior to House Bill 427, the punishment for price tag switching was a Class A misdemeanor. The value of the item a customer tampered with was not taken into account nor was the loss to the business owner. Now, under the new law, the punishment is determined by the disparity between the price marked and the price paid for an item. Although unlikely, a defendant could potentially face up to 99 years in prison for fraudulently underpaying for an item or items.
For more information, see Texas Penal Code Section 32.47.
Theft From a Person
Under Penal Code 31.03(e)(4)(B), theft from a person of another – or from a human corpse or grave – is a state jail felony punishable by up to two years in state jail and up to a $10,000 fine.
For more information, see Texas Penal Code Section 31.03(e)(4)(B).
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 convictions 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.
The punishment for theft can also be enhanced under certain other conditions, including:
- Theft by a public servant or official who used their position to carry out the crime
- Theft from the government by a government contractor
- Theft from the government by a Medicare provider
- Theft committed after a fire alarm was sounded
- Theft committed after a retail theft detector was disabled
This is just another reason why it’s so important to have an experienced attorney if you have been accused of theft in Fort Worth.
For more information, see Texas Penal Code Section 31.03(e)(2)(B).
Theft Involving Trade Secrets
Under Penal Code 31.05, Theft of a Trade Secret in Texas is 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 it from becoming available to persons other than those selected by the owner to have access for limited purposes. A person commits theft of trade secrets if he or she, without the owner’s consent, knowingly:
- steals a trade secret
- makes a copy of an article representing a trade secret; or
- communicates or transmits a trade secret
For more information, see Penal Code 31.05.
Possession of 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. In other words, you can be charged with theft. (§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 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.
For more information, please reference Penal Code 31.02
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.
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.
For more information, please reference Penal Code 31.04
Organized Retail Theft/Shoplifting
This type of theft specifically seeks to punish conduct related to organized retail theft. The following conduct can be prosecuted:
- Receiving stolen merchandise;
- Possessing stolen merchandise;
- Concealing stolen merchandise;
- Storing stolen merchandise for themselves or another person;
- Bartering stolen merchandise;
- Sellings stolen merchandise; or
- Disposing stolen merchandise.
The punishment for this type of theft or involvement in stolen retail merchandise depends on the value of the stolen property. The consequences range from a Class C misdemeanor to a first-degree felony. The breakdown is as follows:
- If the value of the merchandise is less than $100, it is a Class C misdemeanor.
- If the value of the merchandise is more than $100 and less than $750, it is a
- Class B misdemeanor.
- If the value of the merchandise is $750 to $2500, it is a Class A misdemeanor.
- If the value of the merchandise is $2500 to $30,000, it is a state jail felony
- If the value of the merchandise is $30,000 to $150,000, it is a third-degree felony
- If the value of the merchandise is $150,000 to $300,000, it is a second-degree felony.
- If the value of the merchandise is more than $300,000, it is a first-degree felony.
For more information, please reference Texas Penal Code Section 31.16.
What are the Potential Punishments for a Felony Theft Conviction?
Depending on the value of the property or the type of property that was taken, theft can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony. Our Fort Worth theft lawyers have handled every kind of theft case, ranging from Class C misdemeanors to first-degree felonies. Here’s the punishment ranges for felony theft convictions:
- First-degree felony — Penalties may include a $10,000 fine and a period of incarceration of up to 99 years
- Second-degree felony — Penalties may include a $10,000 fine and a period of incarceration of up to 20 years
- Third-degree felony — Penalties may include a $10,000 fine and a period of incarceration not to exceed 10 years
- State jail felony — Penalties may include a $10,000 fine and a period of incarceration not to exceed two years
What are the Potential Penalties for Misdemeanor Theft?
When a stolen item is valued under $100, the offense may be charged as a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a maximum $500 fine.
Class B and A misdemeanors, however, carry stricter penalties. For example, if the stolen item is worth between $100 to $750, or is a form of identification such as a driver’s license or if you have been previously convicted of theft, the theft is charged as a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to 180-days in jail and a maximum $2,000 fine.
If someone is convicted of stealing property worth $750 to $2,000, it is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.
Theft cases can get complicated. Because the punishments vary depending on the charge, it’s important to speak with an experienced Fort Worth theft lawyer to find out what you or your loved one is facing.
What are Potential Defenses for a Theft Charge?
The two most common defenses are consent and intent. Common issues in the 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 stolen property. If you have been arrested or indicted on a theft charge, call our team of criminal defense attorneys at 817-203-2220. A Fort Worth theft lawyer will evaluate your case and discuss options and strategies.
Can I Get My Theft Case Dismissed?
One of the most common questions our Fort Worth theft lawyers get asked 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 dismissals.
Does Fort Worth Have a 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 Fort Worth theft lawyer to determine if you’re eligible to enter the Deferred Prosecution Program. If you are eligible and successfully complete the program, your case may be dismissed and could ultimately be expunged. We have been extremely successful at getting young people charged with misdemeanor theft into DPP.
Contact Our Experienced Fort Worth Theft Lawyers for Legal Help
If you have been charged with a theft crime in Fort Worth, it’s imperative to seek legal representation immediately. Sometimes theft cases stem from mistakes, misunderstandings or miscommunications. Our Fort Worth theft lawyers will evaluate the facts and circumstances and determine the best strategy to defend you. Call our office now to schedule your free consultation.
During this call, an experienced Fort Worth theft lawyer will:
- Discuss the facts and circumstances of your case;
- Discuss the legal issues involved, including the consequences of the allegation; and
- Discuss the defenses that apply and discuss our approach to your theft case.
You can also contact us online and an attorney will respond.