Updated September 29, 2021; Original Post: August 30, 2019
Statute of limitations laws set a time limit for prosecution of the offense in question. Under these laws, charges must be filed within the time specified. If charges aren’t filed within this time frame, they cannot be filed at all.
All Texas theft crimes are subject to a statute of limitations, each of which depends on the circumstances of the offense in question.
Imagine this scenario: You are minding your own business driving to the grocery store when you notice a police office driving behind you and he appears to be following you. Within a few seconds, the police officer turns on his lights and you are pulled over. The officer approaches you, checks your identification and comes back to asking you to step out of the vehicle and put your arms behind your back because you are being arrested for theft. You know you have done nothing wrong but apparently there is an allegation out there that you stole something from someone and now you are going to jail. You bond out of jail, and you wait for the next step. The problem is you don’t hear anything for one month, three months, six months – what should you do?
Below, we’re going to look at the statutes of limitations for different types of Texas theft crimes, and the circumstances under which the statute of limitations can be extended.
In most theft crime cases, charges are pressed long before the statute of limitations has expired. Therefore, we’re also going to look at Texas theft crimes laws, and the sentencing and penalties you can expect if charged and convicted.
Texas Theft Crime Statute of Limitations
In Texas, the statutes of limitations on theft crimes are fairly straightforward:
- Misdemeanor theft: 2 years
- Felony theft: 3 – 5 years
- Theft by fiduciary: 10 years
- Theft by a public servant: 10 years
The clock for these statutes of limitations begins ticking to moment an offense is committed. However, the period of limitation may be suspended under the following circumstances:
- Any time that the suspect was not in the state of Texas
- The time during the pendency of an indictment
For example, if you commit a string of robberies and leave the state shortly thereafter for six years, the clock stops the day you leave Texas and starts again when you return. This means years later, you could still face charges in Texas for the robberies.
Texas Theft Laws
Under Texas law, theft occurs when the defendant takes the property of another with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of the property.
Knowingly receiving stolen property is also considered to be theft.
Failing to perform an affirmative act that would prove the item being sold or given to the defendant is stolen can also be considered theft in this state.
For example, purchasing a car without a certificate of title and failing to report this to the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles could be considered theft.
Texas Theft Crime Sentencing and Penalties
Texas theft crimes are penalized by the value of the property allegedly taken. As a result, the more valuable the item or items are that you allegedly stole, the more serious the criminal charges. You can expect the following sentencing and penalties for Texas theft crimes.
Charges and Penalties By Property Value
- Theft of property $100 or less: Class C misdemeanor; fines up to $500
- Theft of property $100-$750: Class B misdemeanor; up to 180 days in jail and/or fines up to $2,000
- Theft of property $750-$2,500:Class A misdemeanor; up to one year in jail and/or fines up to $4,000
- Theft of property $2,500-$30,000: State jail felony; 180 days – 2 years in state jail, fines up to $10,000
- Theft of property $30,000-$150,000:Third-degree felony; 2-10 years in prison; fines up to $10,000
- Theft of property $150,000-$300,000:Second degree felony; 2-20 years in prison, fines up to $10,000
- Theft of property $300,000+: First degree felony; 5-99 years or life, fine up to $10,000
Elevated Charges and Enhanced Sentencing
Under certain circumstances, the defendant’s charges and penalties may be bumped up to the next higher level of felony or misdemeanor charge. Let’s say the defendant was a public servant or in contract with the government and committed theft while acting in this capacity. This would create a serious felony theft charge that could result in prison time and fines and fees.
This is one scenario of dozens subject to enhanced sentencing. Prior theft convictions are the most serious of consideration under Texas law. If you have previously been convicted of theft two or more times, any theft you commit in Texas will be charged as a felony. In fact, it does not matter what the value of the item is that was stolen. In theory, you could have stolen a piece of bubble gum from a convenience store, and you could be facing a state jail felony offense.
For example: a woman was caught shoplifting a pair of shoes at a retail store. The value of the shoes was less than $20.00. Under normal circumstances, this would be a Class C Misdemeanor Theft charge punishable by only a fine of up to $500. However, because this woman had been previously convicted of theft twice in her past, she was now facing the charge of Theft of Property under $2500 with two prior convictions, a state jail felony punishable by up to 2 years in a state jail facility and up to a $10,000 fine.
What if the allegedly stolen property was a motor vehicle? How this case would be charged would depend upon whether there is proof that the vehicle was used for joyriding or if there was intent to permanently deprive the owner of the property under the Texas theft statute.
If the evidence of the case appears to show that the individual was “borrowing” or joyriding, this is usually charged as Unauthorized Use of a Motor Vehicle, which is a state jail felony punishable by up to 2 years in a state jail facility and up to a $10,000 fine.
However, if there is evidence to establish that the defendant intended to permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle, then the defendant could be charged with a felony theft charge if the vehicle had a value over $2,500, making the offense a state jail felony. As we outlined above, if the vehicle has a value over $30,000, you could be looking at a felony theft charge punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Possible Defenses To Theft In Texas
If you have been charged with theft in Texas, it is important to know your rights and your possible legal defenses. Below are a list of common defenses your criminal defense attorney should explain and go over with you:
No Intent To Permanently Deprive The Owner
Remember, the State of Texas must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you had the criminal intention to permanently deprive the owner of the property. What if you had borrowed property from the alleged victim in the past? What if the alleged victim had borrowed property from you? What if it was your reasonable belief that you were allowed to be in possession of the property and you had no intention to permanently keep the property of the owner? These are important considerations for your criminal defense lawyer to use as a defense to your theft charges.
Wrong Person Charged
What if you were arrested for theft but there were no real witnesses to the theft, and you were merely in possession of the stolen property? Being in possession of the property is not the same thing as stealing it. What if there was a video of the incident but it was grainy and unclear? The State of Texas must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were positively identified as the individual that committed the crime. Failure to prove this element of a theft crime could lead to a dismissal or not guilty verdict on your criminal charges.
For example: what if someone sold you a TV at a swap meet and you decide to pawn the item for whatever you can get? You walk in and work out a deal with the pawn shop, but the item comes back stolen. You receive a call from a detective claiming you have committed theft and a warrant is issued. Can the State of Texas prove that you were the person who committed the crime of theft when there were no witnesses placing you at the scene? Unlikely.
Value Can Not Be Proven
The State of Texas must prove the value of the allegedly stolen item beyond a reasonable doubt. If your criminal lawyer can establish doubt regarding the value of the items allegedly stolen, you could have your case reduced to a lesser charge or dismissed altogether.
For example: What if you have been arrested for a felony theft charge claiming the item stolen was $3,000 in value? Under this scenario, you would be charged with a state jail felony in Texas. How does the State of Texas establish the value of an item? They would need to provide receipts, estimates or a profession opinion establishing the value. However, these evidentiary items are only an opinion. Your experienced and aggressive criminal defense attorney can obtain estimates and professional opinions on your behalf that could cast doubt on the prosecutor’s claim of value. This becomes extremely important in the example we have listed above. If the prosecutor claims the item is valued at $3,000 but you have professional opinions and estimates putting the value much closer to $2,000, this creates doubt about whether this theft charge should be a felony or misdemeanor theft. If your criminal attorney provides this evidence to a grand jury, it may be possible to have your felony theft charge lowered to a lesser misdemeanor theft charge.
What if you did commit the crime of theft? If you are guilty of the crime, is there a way to get your theft case dismissed? County Diversion Programs are a possibility if you qualify. Each county in Texas has a different policy on how they apply diversion programs, but it is critical that your criminal defense attorney explore the use of a diversion program to get your theft case dismissed and possibly expunged from your criminal record.
For example: in Tarrant County, Texas, there is a diversion program known as the Deferred Prosecution Program (DPP). Under the terms of this program, you must complete an application, answer some personal questions, provide character references and proof that you are in school or working. Generally, this program is for youthful first-time offenders on lower-level theft offenses. However, you should contact The Hampton Criminal Defense Attorneys, PLLC to determine your eligibility for the program. Under this program, if you stay out of trouble, pass a drug test, and maintain employment or school attendance, your case can be dismissed. A huge benefit of this program is that upon completion of the program, you do not have to wait the statute of limitations to have your theft case expunged. You could be eligible IMMEDIATELY for an expunction to clear your criminal record and obtain or maintain employment.
What Can An Attorney Do To Help You?
Ultimately, if there’s any reason to believe you’ve participated in criminal theft activity that still falls within that crime’s statute of limitations, seek professional legal advice. An aggressive criminal defense can mean the difference between walking free and spending time (and money) paying for theft crime charges.
Each of the criminal defenses listed above should be explained and applied to your factual situation by an experienced and aggressive criminal defense attorney. Hiring the right criminal defense lawyer could make the difference between being convicted with a permanent stain on your criminal record or getting your case dismissed and clearing your name.
The best theft lawyers take the time to go over the evidence with their client and explain the strengths and weaknesses of the case and answer their client’s questions so that they are on the same page for their criminal defense. At the Hampton Criminal Defense Attorneys, PLLC, we make it a practice to answer all your questions and allow you to review your evidence and chart a customized plan of action for your theft case.
What if your theft case has not been filed yet? A criminal lawyer can investigate the status of the case and walk you through a strategy to put this behind you.
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.