Updated September 14, 2021; Original: April 5, 2019
The criminal justice system divides crimes into two main categories: misdemeanors and felonies. Misdemeanors are less serious crimes. They typically only come with no more than a few months in jail and relatively small fines. In contrast, felonies are incredibly severe, with potentially lengthy prison sentences and fines. Additionally, felon status can take away some important rights.
When is a crime a felony? It depends on the situation. Murder, for example, is always a felony. However, there are few other crimes that are always considered a felony. Even sexual assault can be a misdemeanor depending on the severity of the attack.
Theft is one of the crimes that may be a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the situation. If you have been accused of theft, think about the value of the items that were stolen, the actual content, and whether or not violence was used during the theft. These factors can not only help you determine what types of penalties you may face, but also in creating a strong defense strategy to reduce your sentence or get the charges against you dropped or dismissed.
Let’s look at what makes theft a felony crime in the state of Texas.
Stealing Over $2,500 Of Merchandise
The most important factor in a theft case is the value of the property that was stolen — or attempted to be stolen. If the value of the merchandise is less than $2,500, you will most likely only face misdemeanor charges.
If the value of the merchandise is between $2,500 and $30,000, you may face state jail felony charges. From there, the charges increase. Stealing over $300,000 worth of merchandise, for example, is a first-degree felony in our state.
Stealing Goats, Sheep, or Cattle
Yes, the Texas Penal Code actually mentions these things specifically in our laws.
If you are caught trying to steal sheep or other types of livestock, you will be hit with felony theft charges. The amount of sheep or livestock will determine what level of felony charges you face. Stealing “less than 10 head of sheep, swine, or goats, or any part thereof under the value of $30,000” is a state jail felony.
The penalties get more serious if you start to mess with certain types of animals. You can face a third-degree felony charge if you are accused of stealing “cattle, horses, or exotic livestock or exotic fowl.”
If you are accused of stealing from a human corpse or from any part of a grave site, you could face state jail felony charges, punishable by up to 2 years in a state jail facility and up to a $10,000 fine.
Theft of Precious Metals
Swiping any amount of aluminum bronze, copper, or brass is a state jail felony. (Tinfoil doesn’t count.) If the value of these metals is over $20,000, you will face more severe charges.
This is becoming a more common offense with instances of theft of copper from air conditioning units and vehicles. Police are looking for these offenses and cracking down on them as an attempt to make an example of those committing these felony theft crimes.
Theft of a Firearm or Controlled Substances
Any firearm will do. If you steal a firearm, even one valued at less than $2,500, you will face felony charges. Legally, the value of the firearm is not relevant. If the firearm is operational and the prosecutor can prove that you intended to permanently deprive the owner of the gun, you may be charged. If you are not authorized to have a firearm in the first place, you may face extra charges and penalties.
Felons cannot legally own a gun according to federal law; if you have a previous felony charge on your record, getting caught with a stolen firearm is a serious situation.
You may also face additional charges if you are found possessing stolen drugs or controlled substances. This crime is taken very seriously.
Stealing or attempting to steal any amount of controlled substances is a third-degree felony. If the value of those substances is over $150,000, you will face more serious charges. Depending on the quantity of the controlled substances, you might have to fight back against additional possession or even trafficking charges.
When You Already Have a Criminal Record and are Charged with Theft in Texas
Everyone makes mistakes, but repeating those mistakes comes with more serious penalties. It is critical that you NEVER accept a theft conviction. Many first-time offenders are tempted to take a credit for time served offer on a shoplifting or petty theft charge because they think it will be the quickest and easiest way to dispose of their theft case. However, once you have been convicted of a theft charge, any subsequent allegations of theft will come with much more serious consequences that could affect your freedom and your financial future.
If you have two previous theft convictions on your record — even if they are misdemeanors and this incident should have been a misdemeanor — you will face felony charges for your third.
For example: a young woman had a rough spot in her life 10 years ago and accepted a quick credit for time served offer on two shoplifting cases she had pending in Fort Worth, Texas. She never thought they would come back to haunt her. However, 10 years later she was on her way out of Payless Shoe Store and accidentally had a box of shoes her daughter placed in a bag and was arrested for a theft charge. To her surprise, she has now been charged with a State Jail felony charge of Theft of property with two or more convictions. Under this Texas law, this young woman could have stolen a piece of bubble gum worth $.10, and she would have been charged with a felony crime.
In addition to the above consequences, resolving your felony theft case for a conviction will result in you losing your right to vote. You will no longer be able to vote in Presidential or local elections
Finally, accepting a felony theft conviction will result in you losing your Constitutional right to possess a firearm. One of the most treasured rights of many Texans is the right to own, purchase and possess firearms. If you are convicted of a felony theft charge, you will no longer be allowed to own, possess, or purchase a firearm. In fact, if a police officer discovers that you have a firearm in your possession, you could be arrested and charged with the crime of Unlawful Possession of a Firearm by a Felony, a third-degree felony charge punishable by a minimum of 2 years in prison and a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
There are many defense strategies that can help you greatly reduce the charges and penalties against you — or even potentially get your charges dropped or dismissed. Use your knowledge of felony and misdemeanor crimes to start fighting back against charges.
Defenses To Felony Theft
If you have been charged with a felony theft, it is important to contact an experienced and aggressive criminal defense attorney that can explore your defenses and how you can attack your felony theft case. Some examples of effective criminal defenses to theft include:
Can The Value Of The Item Be Proven?
If you have been charged with felony theft, the State of Texas must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the item that was allegedly stolen was worth at least $2,500. Failure to prove the element of value will make it impossible for the prosecutor to convict you of a felony theft charge. The more effective your criminal defense lawyer is at creating doubt around the value of the items allegedly stolen, the more leverage you may have in negotiating a favorable result for your case.
How was the value of the item determined? Did they provide receipts? Is there an estimate of loss? Who provided the estimate? Was it from a reputable business? Was it just a handwritten estimate? All of these are specific questions your criminal defense attorney should examine to determine if the prosecutor’s loss estimate is able to be proven.
For example: you have been charged with stealing a vehicle. You are now facing a felony theft charge because the alleged victim is claiming the vehicle is worth $3,000. However, you learn that the vehicle does not run. In fact, it is a piece of junk – a 1979 Olds Cutlass Supreme. It is so old and beat up that the horn and the instrument panel does not work. Despite this, the alleged victim is adamant that the car must be worth at least $2,500. What if they didn’t provide a reputable estimate? Your criminal defense lawyer can seek an independent estimate of the vehicle in its terrible condition and show that the charge, if any, should be a misdemeanor theft charge, not a felony.
The Prosecutor Can Not Prove The Intent To Permanently Deprive
If you have been charged with felony theft, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you had the intent to permanently deprive the alleged victim of their property.
What if there is a history of conduct between the parties where they would routinely borrow each other’s property? What if we are talking about a roommate situation or close friend situation where both parties routinely borrow items and return them?
For example: boyfriend and girlfriend are living with each other until they have a disagreement and separate. The girlfriend gets mad at the boyfriend because she can’t find her laptop, so she calls the police and claims her boyfriend stole the laptop. The criminal attorney later learns that each of them had some of the other person’s property and they shared items between the two of them frequently. In fact, the girlfriend never communicated to the boyfriend about getting her laptop back.
In this situation, there is no intent to permanently deprive. The prosecutor will have a very difficult time proving that a theft occurred. Why? Because both parties had each other’s property, and the State of Texas must prove beyond a reasonable doubt the boyfriend acted intentionally and knowingly to permanently deprive the girlfriend of her property.
Can Your Felony Theft Be Dismissed At The Grand Jury?
One of the main differences between a felony theft and a misdemeanor theft is the requirement of a felony theft case to be presented to a grand jury. A grand jury is a constitutional requirement under Texas law for all felony charges.
Texas law requires all felony cases to be presented to a grand jury. The primary purpose of the grand jury is to determine if there is probable cause for the felony crime to exist. If there is evidence that may show the felony charge can not be proven, the time for your criminal defense attorney to present that evidence is at a grand jury presentation.
The grand jury can do the following to your theft case:
- Keep the charge as a felony theft and send it to a felony court
- Lower the charge to a misdemeanor theft and assign the charge to a misdemeanor court
- No Bill the case – dismiss your felony theft charge
For example: Your criminal defense attorney learns that the value of the item you allegedly stole is $1,500, rather than the claimed $3,000. Your criminal attorney can prepare an evidence packet of receipts, estimates, pictures and other supporting documentation and evidence to present to the grand jury. At the grand jury presentation, the grand jury will have the opportunity to review not only the evidence from the prosecutor, but also the refuting evidence your criminal defense lawyer has prepared on your behalf.
If you need help with your felony theft charge, don’t hesitate to contact The Hampton Law Firm. Our team of 5 former Prosecutors stands ready to provide you the best criminal defense possible to help protect your freedom and your clean criminal record.
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.