Theft is the most commonly prosecuted crime in Fort Worth criminal courts. Defined as the unlawful taking of another’s property, theft is an offense that can result in lengthy prison or probation sentences, as well as hefty fines.
An important distinction to make with Texas theft charges is whether the offense (or offenses) in question will be considered a misdemeanor or a felony. Felony theft charges are much more likely to result in time served, and to make options such as diversion programs less attainable.
Below, we’re going to cover Texas theft law, including enhancements and aggregations that can cause misdemeanor theft to be considered a felony.
How Texas Law Defines Theft
Texas law defines theft as being when an individual “unlawfully appropriates property with the intent to deprive the owner of the property.” Essentially, this means that you commit theft when you take something that doesn’t belong to you, with no consent or other justification for doing so, and at the time of the offense do not intend to return the stolen property to its owner.
Common types of theft include:
- Grand theft
- Grand theft auto
Texas Theft Charges and Penalties
Texas theft charges penalties depend on the value of the property allegedly taken. Certain factors, such as prior offenses or the capacity in which the defendant committed theft, may raise the penalty to the next level.
Texas theft charges and penalties are as follows:
- $50 or less: Class C misdemeanor punishable by a $500 fine and no jail time.
- $50-$500: Class B misdemeanor punishable by 180 days in jail and a fine up to $2,000.
- $500-$1,500: Class A misdemeanor punishable by one year of jail time and a fine of up to $4,000.
- $1,500-$20,000: State jail felony punishable by 6 months – two years in state jail and a fine of up to $10,000.
- $20,000-$100,000: Third-degree felony punishable by 2-10 years of incarceration and a fine of up to $10,000.
- $100,000-$200,000: Second-degree felony punishable by 2-20 years of incarceration and a fine of up to $10,000.
- $200,000 or more: First-degree felony punishable by 5 years to 99 years/life incarceration and a fine of up to $10,000.
If you have one prior conviction for any level of theft, your charges will be bumped up one bracket. If you have two or more prior theft convictions, you could potentially be bumped up two brackets.
If you are a public servant, in contract with the government or are a Medicare provider and the theft was related to this capacity, the penalty may be bumped up to the next bracket.
How Misdemeanor Theft Becomes a Felony in Texas
The above bullet points draw a clear line between misdemeanor and felony theft: if the value was under $1,500, the offense is a misdemeanor, and if the value is over $1,500 the offense is a felony.
Seasoned thieves are well aware of this distinction, and will often commit multiple theft offenses that each include under $1,500 worth of property as opposed to one offense stealing a larger amount. The idea is to avoid a felony-level charge if caught.
However, if you are caught for one offense, it’s likely that law enforcement will uncover your involvement in other offenses as well. Moreover, prosecutors will often pool multiple thefts into one offense, elevating multiple misdemeanor-level offenses to a single felony-level offense. This allows prosecutors to seek a greater penalty, and to negate repeat offenders’ attempts to avoid felony-level charges.
How Texas Felony Theft Charges Affect Your Case
As illustrated above, felony-level theft has significantly higher penalties. Moreover, you are more likely to end up serving time behind bars, as community supervision programs are often not available for felony-level offenders. Also, as a convicted felon your personal freedoms will be restricted long after your sentence is complete.
If your misdemeanor-level charges are aggregated into a single felony-level charge, it’s also more likely that prosecutors will seek jail time. Combining charges will also affect plea bargaining – if you exhibit a pattern of repeated theft, prosecution is less likely to go easy on you. Options such as pretrial diversion programs are also less likely.
However, even when multiple theft charges are lumped together, each instance must be examined separately. For example, if the evidence for one offense is not sufficient, it may be possible to break up your charges, reducing your charge from a felony to a misdemeanor.
What does it all mean?
No matter how you look at it, theft is a serious offense with severe consequences. This is particularly true if you are facing aggregated or felony-level charges, though, and if you have a choice, dealing with a misdemeanor is far preferable.
Luckily, there are a lot of moving parts in a theft case, and it may be possible to fight back and reduce or even beat your charges entirely, especially if there are weaknesses in the state’s evidence against you.
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.