If you have been accused of committing theft in Texas, you could face tough consequences if convicted. Here is an outline of theft laws and penalties, plus how an experienced attorney can help you fight your charges.
Theft Laws in Texas
If a person takes someone else’s property with an intent to permanently deprive the owner of the property, they can be charged with theft or larceny under Texas law.
The law also applies to accepting property a person knows to have been stolen.
There is no minimum threshold of value for the theft laws to apply. Even the smallest amount of value can constitute a theft crime.
Penalties for Theft in Texas
Depending on the value of the stolen items, penalties for theft crimes in Texas vary from misdemeanors involving only fines to felonies that could involve prison sentences. Here is a breakdown of the penalties by value.
Property valued at $50 or less
Class C misdemeanor – fine of up to $500
Property valued between $50 and $500, or property is a stolen ID
Class B misdemeanor – jail sentence of up to 180 days, fine of up to $2,000, or both
Property valued between $500 and $1,500
Class A misdemeanor – jail sentence of up to one year, fine of up to $4,000, or both
Property valued between $1,500 and $20,000, or property is a firearm or cattle worth up to $20,000
State jail felony – state jail sentence between 180 days and two years plus fine of up to $10,000
Property valued between $20,000 and $100,000 or property is livestock worth up to $100,000
Third degree felony – prison sentence of two to 10 years plus fine of up to $10,000
Property valued between $100,000 and $200,000
Second degree felony – prison sentence of two to 20 years plus fine of up to $10,000
Property valued at $200,000 or more
First degree felony; prison sentence of five to 99 years and a fine of up to $10,000
Penalties can also be enhanced if the offender belonged to certain special classes, including the following:
- Public servant
- Government contractor
- Medicare provider
Additionally, an individual accused of theft can face civil charges from the victim of the crime under the Texas Theft Liability Act. The victim can file a claim for damages of the actual value of the item plus a civil penalty of up to $1,000.
If a minor is convicted of theft crimes in Texas, the parents or legal guardians may be held legally responsible for the damages with a limit of $5,000 per incident and no civil penalties.
Penalties may be enhanced for prior theft convictions as well. For example, if an individual commits a second offense for an item valued at $100, the penalty for a Class A misdemeanor will apply instead of the normal Class B misdemeanor. Two or more convictions for any amount of theft will be charged as state jail felonies rather than misdemeanors, no matter the value of the items.
Special items can also involve higher penalties. The Texas Penal Code specifically addresses theft of the following types of property:
- Grave markers
- Official ballots or election envelopes
- Aluminum, copper, brass, or bronze
- Controlled substances taken from commercial buildings or wholesale distribution vehicles
- Automated teller machine or contents thereof
- Multi-channel video or information services or devices
- Trade secrets
- Theft by check
- Electronic financial information
- Petroleum products
- Unauthorized vehicle use
- Tampering with identification numbers
If several items are involved in the theft, the law permits punishing the offender according to the aggregate value of the items grouped under a single charge. An individual can also be prosecuted for possessing, manufacturing, or distributing instruments intended for use in retail theft or for participating in organized retail theft.
Defenses to Theft Charges in Texas
A skilled Texas criminal attorney can help you fight your theft charges with numerous possible defenses. The following are just a few examples:
Lack of intent
Perhaps you were shopping and did not realize an item had slipped into your bag. You cannot be convicted of the crime of theft unless intent is proven.
Mistake of fact
If the property in question was considered to have been stolen, but in fact it was not, charges cannot apply.
If you stole something under threat of harm to yourself or members of your family, you may be able to use this defense.
The best defense, of course, is to start working with a knowledgeable lawyer as soon as possible. Learn more about what you can do to help your situation by setting up a free case review.
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.