Our country has experienced two catastrophic hurricanes in less than a month.
In these times of disaster, we often see the best of people. We see people traveling hundreds of miles to help those who are stranded. We see people raising money and donating necessities. We see people opening their homes to those who have lost theirs.
Unfortunately, disasters can also bring out the opposite in people.
Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma have devastated Texas and Florida, leaving debris, flooding, damage, and destruction in their wake. They have also left homes and businesses vulnerable and exposed to potential looters.
In Houston, numerous alleged looters have already been caught:
- 14 people were arrested on looting charges in a 48-hour period in the Houston area.
- A group of people was arrested allegedly breaking into a liquor store.
- Another group of people was arrested “in a suspicious pickup truck” outside of a shoe store at a local shopping center.
- A man was arrested for trying to drive an SUV into a convenience store in order to allegedly steal an ATM.
These stories are just the beginning. Regardless of the reason why, if you’re caught looting in Texas, especially during an emergency or crisis, you could face enhanced penalties for your crime.
Understanding Texas’ Looting Laws
When people steal from businesses and homes during wars, riots, disasters, or similar situations, we call it looting. However, we don’t actually have a law that defines looting on its own as a crime.
Instead, looting would fall under the theft or burglary laws depending on the circumstances involved in the alleged crime.
Depending on the value of the property, you could face a misdemeanor or felony offense.
- If the value of the stolen property is less than $100, you will face a class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine up to $500.
- If the value of the stolen property is $100-$750, you will face a class B misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a fine up to $2,000.
- If the value of the stolen property is $750-$2,500, you will face a class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine up to $4,000.
- If the value of the stolen property is $2,500-$30,000, you will face a state jail felony punishable by 180 days to 2 years in jail and a fine up to $10,000.
- If the value of the stolen property is $30,000-$150,000, you will face a third degree felony punishable by 2-10 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000.
If you are caught breaking into a building or someone’s home without consent and with intent to commit a felony, theft, or assault, you can be charged with burglary.
Burglary is a state jail felony if it’s committed in a building other than someone’s home. If burglary is committed in someone’s home, it is a second degree felony punishable by 2-20 years in prison.
Burglary is a first-degree felony – punishable by 5-99 years or life in prison – if the premises are someone’s home and any party to the offense entered the home with intent to commit a felony other than felony theft or committed or attempted to commit a felony other than felony theft.
Why Are Texas Looting Penalties More Severe After Harvey?
In order to stop possible looters, the Houston Police Department increased their security efforts by imposing a midnight to 5 a.m. curfew and enhancing penalties for crimes committed in the disaster area.
Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said, “We’re a city that is about diversity and opportunity and all kinds of justice. But we’re not a city that’s going to tolerate people victimizing people that are at the lowest point in their life.”
In Texas, the state enhances punishments for crimes including theft, burglary, and robbery if they are committed in a county that has been declared a disaster area.
This means that burglarizing a home, which under normal circumstances is punished by 2-20 years in prison, could now bring a punishment of five years to life in prison.
If you have been accused of looting after Hurricane Harvey, it’s important to reach out to an experienced Texas criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. A knowledgeable attorney will fight for your rights and help you get your charges reduced, dropped, or dismissed.
About the Author:
After getting his Juris Doctor from the University of Houston Law Center, Jeff Hampton began practicing criminal law in Texas in 2005. Before becoming a defense attorney, he worked as a prosecutor for the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office – experience he uses to anticipate and cast doubt on the arguments that will be used against his clients. Over the course of his career, he has helped countless Texans protect their rights and get the best possible outcome in their criminal cases. His skill has earned him recognition from the National Trial Lawyers (Top 100 Trial Lawyers) and Avvo (Top Attorney in Criminal Defense, Top Attorney in DUI & DWI, 10/10 Superb Rating), and he is Lead Counsel rated.