In the aftermath of Harvey, police are on the lookout for looters and all other kinds of crimes. Law enforcement officials have learned since Hurricane Katrina that natural disasters lead to increased theft, and they are cracking down hard on theft crimes in Texas after Hurricane Harvey.
Case-in-point: more than 40 people have been arrested in Harris County for looting since the hurricane struck. Worse, if theft, robbery, burglary, or assault occur in a Texas county declared a disaster area by the governor, penalties are greatly increased. Some looters may face up to life in prison for a burglary charge, so it’s important to understand what qualifies as theft, the penalties associated with it, and the possible defenses you may use to battle your charges.
First, the legal definition: a person commits theft, or larceny, if they take property intentionally away from the owner to deprive the owner of their rightful possession. This also applies if the property is known to be stolen by someone else. The value of the stolen property in large part determines the severity of the charges that will be filed.
The Texas statutes outline several main areas of theft:
Receiving or concealing stolen property
This category covers general theft. If an individual steals someone else’s property or accepts property they know to be stolen, they can be charged with theft. The charge also applies if an individual hides property they know to be stolen.
Burglary occurs when an individual enters a building or structure without the owner’s permission with the intent to commit theft or assault.
During robbery, an individual enters a building or structure when other people are present. Their entry causes fear or injury to those present, either deliberately or recklessly.
Shoplifting occurs when an individual takes items from a retail establishment without paying for them. If you deliberately change price tags on retail items in order to pay a lower price, you can also be charged with shoplifting.
Writing bad checks
When you write a check knowing that not enough money exists in the bank account to cover the amount of the check, the charge of theft may be filed.
Theft of services
You can be charged with theft for not paying for services such as cable television or home repairs.
This is classified as a white collar crime, when an individual takes protected information from a company or institution.
Tampering with ID numbers
An individual who attempts to remove vehicle identification numbers or serial numbers on firearms can be charged with theft under Texas law.
Embezzlement occurs when finances which are entrusted to one person’s care are used for a different purpose outside the original intent.
If an individual threatens another person with harm unless they transfer services, property, or money, a charge of theft will apply.
Penalties for theft crimes depend on the value or amount of the stolen goods. Additional penalties may be added for repeat offenders and may include jail time.
Consequences of a Theft Conviction in Texas
The penalties are administered according to this value scale:
- Class C misdemeanor: $50 or less
- Class B misdemeanor: $50.00 – $499.99
- Class A misdemeanor: $500.00 – $1,499.99
- State jail felony: $1,500.00 – $19,999.99
- Third degree felony: $20,000 – $99,999.99
- Second degree felony: $100,000 – $199,999.99
- First degree felony: $200,000 or more
The penalties increase during disasters along these guidelines:
- A second degree Felony is punished as first degree felony.
- A State Jail Felony is punished as a third degree felony.
- A third degree felony is punished as a second degree felony.
- A Class A misdemeanor is punished by a minimum of 180 days in jail.
- A Class B misdemeanor is punished as a Class A misdemeanor.
Facing a misdemeanor theft charge can mean fines and required community service hours as well as possible jail time. A felony theft charge is more serious, because it stays on your record longer and may involve a lengthy prison sentence. To truly understand what you’re up against, it’s important to contact a qualified Texas theft lawyer for advice on your particular case.
Defending Yourself against a Theft Charge
Common defenses for theft charges include the following:
- Lack of intent to commit theft
- Insufficient evidence to prove the theft occurred
- Operating under duress: you would not have committed theft otherwise
To get the help you need in building a defense against theft charges, you need an experienced criminal attorney. They will work to protect your rights and form a specific strategy for your case. Schedule a consultation as soon as possible after charges are filed for the best chance at a positive outcome.
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.