Post Updated: September 28, 2021; Original Post: August 10, 2017
If you have been arrested for shoplifting in Texas, it is critical to know what the penalties are and what the options are for you to resolve your case with a dismissal and the opportunity to clear your criminal record. One classic example of someone that paid a dear price for being wrongfully charged wit shoplifting is the case of Lucky Whitehead.
During the off-season, football teams cut players for a variety of reasons: they get injured; they’re not fast enough; they can’t catch the ball; they miss plays. The list goes on and on.
All those reasons, though, have to deal with football. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for Lucky Whitehead, a third-year wide receiver recently released from the Dallas Cowboys.
So why did they cut him? Because Whitehead apparently had a warrant out for his arrest due to missing a court appearance for a shoplifting charge. After discovering this, the Dallas Cowboys decided to part ways with him.
However, the next day, the police announced that they weren’t looking for Whitehead after all, and the whole situation had been a case of mistaken identity. A man was arrested for shoplifting in Woodbridge, Virginia, and he gave police officers Whitehead’s name and social security number. Although the man didn’t have ID, he looked similar enough to Whitehead that the police didn’t press the issue.
The Virginia police department is now looking for the man who actually shoplifted, and they’ve apologized to Whitehead… but it looks like he’s still out of a job with the Cowboys.
While shoplifting is typically seen as a minor crime, here in Texas, the penalties are severe. More severe, even, than getting cut from a football team. So, let’s explore what Texas’ shoplifting laws and penalties currently are.
Texas Shoplifting Laws
When you think of shoplifting, you probably think of swiping something from a store, shoving it into your pocket or bag, and then walking out. That’s generally what shoplifting is, but according to the Texas penal code, shoplifting is just another way to say theft.
There are multiple types of theft, and shoplifting is just one of the many theft offenses that have been consolidated under a single theft umbrella.
What is theft, legally speaking? Our statutes say that a person commits theft if he unlawfully appropriates property with intent to deprive the owner of that property.
What makes it unlawful? Either you don’t have the owner’s consent, or you take property you know has already been stolen.
So, taking a pair of jeans from a department store without paying is theft. It is also theft to switch price tags on an item, so you don’t have to pay full price, or to write a bad check for purchases. Although these are different crimes under Texas law, they are variations of the crime of theft.
Texas Shoplifting Penalties
You can be charged with either a misdemeanor or felony theft offense depending upon the value of the stolen property, and consequences may include both jail time and fines.
- If the value of the property is less than $100, you can be charged with a Class C misdemeanor punishable by fines up to $500.
- If the value of the property is $100-$750, you can be charged with a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days in jail and fines up to $2,000.
- If the value of the property is $750-$2,500, you can be charged with a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and fines up to $4,000.
- If the value of the property is $2,500-$30,000, you can be charged with a state jail felony punishable by 180 days to 2 years in a state penitentiary and fines up to $10,000.
- If the value of the property is $30,000-$150,000, you can be charged with a third-degree felony punishable by 2-10 years in jail and fines up to $10,000.
- If the value of the property is $150,000-$300,000, you can be charged with a second-degree felony punishable by 2-20 years in jail and fines up to $10,000.
- If the value of the property is more than $300,000, you can be charged with a first-degree felony punishable by 5-99 years in jail and fines up to $10,000.
As you can see, the more valuable the property, the more severe the penalty.
Along with these criminal penalties, it’s also important to note that adult shoplifters can be sued by the retailers they stole from for actual damages, plus additional damages up to $1,000.
If a minor child shoplifts, the parents or guardians could potentially be sued for actual damages up to $5,000. A minor child may also be charged with the crime of theft in juvenile court.
Is It Worth Hiring An Attorney For A Minor Shoplifting Case?
It may be tempting to think that if you are charged with a misdemeanor theft charge, it may not be worth the money to hire an experienced and aggressive criminal defense attorney to protect your rights. Maybe it makes more sense to go in and pay a fine and take a conviction?
It is critical to understand that a theft conviction of any type can have devastating consequences. If an employer runs a background check on you and learns that you have been arrested and convicted of theft, they are likely to terminate your employment. If you are looking for a job and the employer learns you have a theft conviction, they will view this conviction as negatively as they would a felony conviction. Why? Because theft is a crime of dishonesty. Most employers are afraid of hiring anyone with a theft on their record because they fear that the employee will steal from them or be dishonest in their business dealings.
Additionally, if you have an aspiration to enter a profession that requires a license (attorney, doctor, real estate agent, etc.), you may not pass their character and fitness evaluation if you have a theft conviction on your criminal record. As a result, it is important that an experienced criminal defense attorney negotiate a favorable result that allows you to have this theft charge removed from your criminal record.
Defenses To Shoplifting Charges in Texas
Facing the prospect of fighting a shoplifting charge in Texas is daunting. Generally, it is your word against a loss prevention officer’s word. How can you protect yourself and ensure a favorable outcome? Let’s examine some common defenses to shoplifting in Texas:
- No Criminal Intent – did you intend to commit theft? The State of Texas must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you intentionally or knowingly took the property of another with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of the property. What if the alleged theft was an accident? What if you paid for some items but not all the items? What if you had not yet passed all points of sale and you were still shopping, and this was a misunderstanding? If your experienced and aggressive criminal defense attorney can establish that you had no criminal intent to commit the crime of shoplifting, the State of Texas will be required to dismiss your case.
For example: you are at Wal-Mart and have a child with you sitting in the cart. The cart is piled high with food and clothes and other essential items, and you had nowhere else to place your additional items other than under the cart. You approach the line and realize the quickest way is through self-checkout. You process all your items, pay for those items, and start to walk out the door of the store. All the sudden, you are surrounded by loss prevention officers, and they are accusing you of the crime of theft. You try to explain yourself! You were busy dealing with your toddler and you paid for all the other items. If you were going to steal from them, why would you pay for anything? Unfortunately, your arguments are ignored, and you have been arrested and your child is being held for a family member to pick him up.
- Wrong Person – what if a detective calls you and claims you are being investigated for shoplifting? What if you know that you had never been at the store in question and are completely innocent? Your criminal attorney may be able to review the video at the scene to show that you were not present. It is commonplace that many stores have low quality and grainy video. Without having arrested the accused at the store, it may be difficult for the State of Texas to prove the element of identity.
- Cannot Prove You Intended To Permanently Deprive – what if you had an item in your possession but you had every intention to pay for it? We find this scenario arise all the time with shoplifting cases because loss prevention officers will jump the gun on a shoplifting arrest and claim that someone was attempting to commit theft when they had not yet passed all points of sale.
For example: What if someone has several items in their cart but they decide to go the garden section of Wal-Mart to look at the seasonal items. A loss prevention officer approaches you and claims you committed theft. What if you are still looking in the fertilizer and plant section but had not passed all points of sale? This will create an opportunity for your criminal defense lawyer to argue you had no intent to permanently deprive the owner of the property.
- Conditional Dismissal – if this is your first shoplifting charge, your criminal defense attorney may be able to negotiate a conditional dismissal of your theft case. How? An experienced and aggressive criminal lawyer may be able to convince the prosecutor to dismiss your theft case in exchange for completion of community service hours and an approved theft class. But does this look like an admission of guilt? No! By completing these terms of a conditional dismissal, you will become eligible to your shoplifting case expunged from your criminal record.
- Diversion Program – what if you did commit shoplifting? What if you are guilty as sin? Is there a way to get your case dismissed? Possibly. Many counties in North Texas have diversion programs for first-time shoplifting cases that provide an opportunity for a shoplifting dismissal.
For example: In Tarrant County, Texas, there is a Deferred Prosecution Program (DPP) that provides first-time shoplifting offenders the ability to have their case dismissed and expunged from their criminal record. The most difficult part of the program is getting in. You must work with your experienced criminal attorney to process the application and requirements. After admission to the program, you are required to provide a clean drug test, stay out of trouble, hold down a job or stay in school and mail in a form once a month for four months. At the end of the four months, your shoplifting case is dismissed, and you will be IMMEDIATELY eligible for an expunction. An expunction will allow you to deny the shoplifting ever occurred! You can get your life back!
Fighting Shoplifting Charges in Texas
Our state takes shoplifting and all theft seriously. For that reason, it’s imperative to reach out to an experienced Texas theft attorney with proven results if you’ve been caught shoplifting. A knowledgeable lawyer will be able to fight for your rights to get your charges reduced, dismissed, or dropped altogether to avoid prosecution. Don’t wait around for your charges to disappear, fight back today.
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.