UPDATED 8/20/2021, Original Post: April 22, 2018
Theft is one of the most common property crimes in the State of Texas. Although theft crimes may be common, it does not change the fact that theft is taken very seriously in the state of Texas. Even minor theft offenses can result in lengthy jail sentences, hefty fines, and additional civil penalties.
Maybe you or a loved one has been charged with a theft crime. It is critical to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney that has a track record of resolving theft crimes in a favorable manner so that you can avoid the life-altering consequences that can come with a theft conviction.
Moreover, you’ll be left with a criminal record that will come back to haunt you long after any sentence is complete.
How Texas Law Defines Theft
Texas law defines theft as taking property, services, or anything of value with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of the property. Selling or receiving goods that you know to be stolen is also defined as theft.
In Texas, failure to perform an affirmative act that proves the item being sold or transferred is not stolen could also be considered theft. For example, if you buy a car, you need to ask for a properly executed certificate of title to verify that it isn’t stolen. Neglect to do this and it’s possible that you’ll face theft charges – even if you’re unaware that the car is stolen.
Theft crimes can be categorized broadly to include shoplifting, robbery, theft of services, theft of property, credit and debit card abuse, forgery, burglary, etc.
Finally, writing fraudulent checks or checks that you know you do not have the funds for is considered theft by check.
Criminal Penalties for Theft
Like other states, Texas classifies theft offenses by the value of the property or services stolen, with enhanced penalties for certain types of property such as livestock and firearms. The below criminal penalties are used as sentencing guidelines for theft crimes.
Class C Misdemeanor Theft
Theft is classified as a Class C misdemeanor if the value of the property or services taken is less than $50. This is punishable by a fine of up to $500 and does not involve any jail time.
Class B Misdemeanor Theft
Theft is classified as a Class B misdemeanor if the value of the stolen property or services is between $50 and $499, or if the stolen property is a driver’s license or other form of identification. This is punishable by up to 180 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,000.
Class A Misdemeanor Theft
Theft is considered a Class A misdemeanor if the value of the stolen property or services is between $500 and $1,499. This is punishable by up to one year in jail and/or a fine of up to $4,000.
State Jail Felony Theft
Theft is considered a State Jail felony if the value of the stolen property or services is between $1,500 and $19,999. Additionally, theft is automatically a State Jail felony if the stolen property is a firearm or certain types of livestock valued at under $20,000. This is punishable by 180 days – 2 years in state jail and a fine of up to $10,000.
Third-Degree Felony Theft
Theft is considered a Third-degree felony if the stolen property is valued between $20,000 and $99,999, or certain types of livestock valued at under $100,000. This is punishable by 2-10 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $10,000.
Second-Degree Felony Theft
If the value of the stolen property is between $100,000 and $199,000, theft is classified as a Second-degree felony. This is punishable by 2-20 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $10,000.
First-Degree Felony Theft
Theft is considered a First-degree felony in Texas if the value of the stolen property or services is $200,000 or more. This is punishable by 5-99 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $10,000.
Civil Penalties for Theft in Texas
In addition to the criminal penalties for theft, you may also be held civilly liable to the victim of theft in the state of Texas. First, you will be required to return any stolen property. If the property is damaged, or if you stole services that cannot be returned, you will be required to reimburse the victim for the value of the stolen property. You will also be liable for a civil penalty of $1,000.
If you are the parent or guardian of a minor who commits theft, you may also be held civilly liable for the damages. However, monetary damage is limited to the actual damages caused by the theft, with a cap of $5,000, and there is no civil penalty.
What Are The Long-Term Consequences For A Theft Conviction in Texas?
The State of Texas classifies the crime of theft as a crime of moral turpitude. What does that mean? It essentially means that theft is a crime of dishonesty. The biggest area where this can negatively affect you is with seeking and maintaining employment.
Unfortunately, employers see the crime of theft as a crime on the same level of seriousness as a felony conviction. Why? Quite simply, if they can’t trust you, they will not hire you. Many employers may be willing to look past a drug conviction or lower-level crime. However, even a conviction for a citation misdemeanor theft charge could result in you being denied employment or terminated from current employment.
IT IS CRITICAL THAT YOU DO NOT TAKE A THEFT CONVICTION. You must make every effort to negotiate a resolution to your theft case that does not involve a conviction. If you take a jail sentence for your theft case, it will be a permanent conviction that you cannot remove from your criminal record.
What if you take a deferred adjudication probation? Under this option, if you complete all the terms and conditions of the deferred adjudication probation, you will be eligible to have the charges sealed or non-disclosed from your criminal record. Effectively, this blocks most employers (other than government and license agencies) from being able to see that you were ever arrested or charged.
What if you take a straight probation sentence? If you receive a probation that is NOT deferred adjudication, known as straight probation, you will be ineligible to have your case expunged or non-disclosed.
So how do you ensure that you can have the theft charges permanently removed from your criminal record? To qualify for an expunction, you must have your theft charges either dismissed, rejected for filing, or your case can be no billed by a grand jury if you were facing felony theft charges.
Is there a waiting period before I can get my theft case removed from my criminal record? Yes! If your theft case was a misdemeanor and it was dismissed, you must wait 2 years from the date of the dismissal before you would be eligible to have it expunged from your record. If your misdemeanor theft case was resolved by deferred adjudication, you may be eligible for an immediately non-disclosure upon completion of the deferred probation.
If your theft case is a felony charge and it was dismissed, you may have to wait 3 years before you are eligible to have the records expunged from your criminal record. If your felony theft charge was presented to a grand jury and a no bill was rendered, you must wait a period of 3 years from the date of the no bill before you can have the arrest records expunged. If your felony theft charge was resolved by a deferred adjudication sentence and you successfully completed the terms and conditions, you must wait a period of 5 years before you will be eligible to have your records non-disclosed.
How do you get your theft arrest off your criminal record? After your waiting period has passed, you can contact a criminal defense attorney that specializes in expunctions and non-disclosures and a petition for expunction or a petition for non-disclosure can be filed. After a short hearing, your criminal lawyer can obtain a court order establishing proof that the expunction or non-disclosure has been approved and this court order can be sent to all agencies responsible for reporting criminal records to databases.
Possible Defenses for Theft in Texas
When seeking to have a theft charge dismissed in Texas, it is critical to examine a few legal defenses that may provide you leverage in your negotiations:
One of the best ways to negotiate a felony theft charge down to a lesser misdemeanor theft charge is to argue the value of the item allegedly stolen. What is it truly worth? Have the estimates been inflated? Is the value being based solely upon the word of the alleged victim? Is the alleged victim attempting to add sentimental value to the item that would not hold up in the marketplace? These are all valid questions to explore in your theft defense and should be discussed with your criminal attorney.
Remember, if the value of the item is supposedly $3,000 but reasonable doubt can be created showing the item may be worth less than $2,500, you have now created a possible opportunity to lower the charge to a misdemeanor theft.
No Intent To Permanently Deprive The Owner
Can the State of Texas prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were intending to permanently deprive the owner of the property? Were you borrowing the item? Is there a history of you and the alleged victim allowing each other to borrow items from each other in the past? Maybe there are emails or text messages establishing the alleged victim knew you were going to use the item or were in possession of the item. All these concerns are vital in creating reasonable doubt in your theft defense.
What Do I Do If Am Charged With Felony Theft in Texas?
If you have been charged with a felony theft in Texas, it is critical to hire a criminal defense attorney that specializes in theft cases. After you have retained your criminal lawyer, they can get access to your police reports, videos, and all other evidence available. It is important to remember that time is of the essence. You do not want to miss out on the opportunity to present your case to the grand jury.
The Grand Jury is a panel of 12 citizens tasked with the responsibility of listening to evidence and determining if the case should remain as a felony. Typically, prosecutors present felony theft cases to the grand jury soon after they are filed. If your criminal defense lawyer does not act quickly, you could miss out on the opportunity to review the evidence, determine your defense, and present an evidence packet for the grand jury to consider.
If you have been able to gather evidence showing there is reasonable doubt that a crime has occurred, the grand jury could do one of the following: keep the charge as a felony, lower the case to a lesser charge misdemeanor theft, or No Bill the case. A No Bill is basically a dismissal that will allow you to have the entire charged expunged from your record.
Facing Texas Theft Charges?
The bottom line is that theft is taken very seriously in the state of Texas, with harsh criminal and civil penalties and long-lasting consequences. If you are facing theft charges, you should fight back to give yourself the best chance of beating your charges.
A knowledgeable Texas criminal defense attorney can help to make sure your rights are protected. He or she will be able to leverage their experience to craft the strongest possible defense for you. It may even be possible to get your case thrown out entirely, depending on your specific circumstances.
About the Author:
Brandon Fulgham has an in-depth understanding of both Texas law and Texans themselves. Before practicing law here, he received his undergraduate degree from TCU, and his law degree from South Texas College of Law in Houston. After graduation, he worked in District Attorneys’ offices as a prosecutor, building cases designed to put people behind bars. Now, he uses that knowledge to protect the rights of people in and around Fort Worth, making sure they receive the strongest possible defense when they find themselves on the wrong side of the law. He has been recognized for his work by The National Trial Lawyers, Fort Worth Magazine, and others.