Property crime was on the wane before COVID-19, and the pandemic hit, but it has exploded since. Most of us think of property crime as damage or destruction and perhaps theft or burglary. The FBI Uniform Crime Reporting Program only includes burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson, but several large cities don’t report their rates regularly.
Texas law includes a longer list that includes actions that you might not think of as property crimes, like online solicitation of a minor. The object of theft-type offenses is taking money or property without force or threat of force. It includes arson because it involves property destruction, even though the victims may not be under force.
Below is a deeper dive into the activities on Texas’s list of property crimes, what they are, the penalties, and how an attorney can help if you are charged.
The Actor’s Interest in the Property and Pecuniary Loss
Texas Penal Code 2021 Title 7 Offenses Against Property Chapter 28 talks about the actor’s interest in the property in relation to property crime defense: “It is no defense to prosecution under this chapter that the actor has an interest in the property damaged or destroyed if another person also has an interest that the actor is not entitled to infringe.”
In other words, you can’t excuse any damage you did based on ownership. If another actor is involved, including anything from another person’s ownership to the insurance company covering the property, you cannot defend yourself by saying it didn’t hurt anyone else.
Texas Penal Code also states how the criminal justice system determines penalties for property crimes. It includes “pecuniary loss” or the value of the property destroyed. Typically, the court looks at the property’s fair market value at the time and place of destruction or, barring that, the cost of replacing the property shortly after destruction.
If money or documents were destroyed, the face value of the cash or securities becomes the basis for the penalty; otherwise, the court considers the loss to be between $750 to $2,499.
The penal code calls out railroad property separately. It provides charges and penalties for tampering, including shooting or throwing an object at a train or rail-mounted work equipment, trespassing on railroad property, or placing something on the tracks to derail a train.
Property Crimes in Texas
Most of the crimes listed in the Texas Penal Code make sense under this category, but there are one or two that may surprise you.
Defined as a person entering or remaining on or in the property of another without the owner’s effective consent, criminal trespass is either a Class C or Class A misdemeanor, depending on the location and whether the person carried a deadly weapon.
Criminal trespassing includes a range of locations and includes agricultural, residential, and recreational land. You can trespass in a building or a vehicle.
The phrase “without effective consent” means the individual trespassing had some sort of notice that they weren’t supposed to be there, including oral, written, and implied notice. Enclosed areas and postings are sufficient to mark property.
You can be charged with criminal trespassing just by being on property that isn’t public and doesn’t belong to you if there is any implication or posting that you don’t have permission to be there.
Criminal mischief is also known as vandalism and includes graffiti. It means a person intentionally or knowingly damaged or destroyed another person’s property, tampered with that property, or caused loss of the property or substantial inconvenience.
Marking, drawing, painting, scratching, or etching anything on someone else’s property is considered criminal mischief. It also includes damaging or destroying property. Depending on the amount of monetary loss, a conviction of criminal mischief can be worth a Class C, B, or A misdemeanor, a state jail felony, or third, second, or first-degree felony punishment.
Burglary is entering a habitation or building without the owner’s consent and includes staying, committing, or attempting to commit a felony, theft, or assault.
The crime can be a state jail felony or a second or first-degree felony, depending on the actions committed.
Burglary of a Motor Vehicle
Motor vehicle theft is called out separately in the code. It means someone breaks into or enters a vehicle without the owner’s consent and with the intent to commit a felony or theft.
Typically, the burglary of a motor vehicle is a Class A misdemeanor or a state jail felony.
Arson is definitely property damage. It means an individual intentionally or knowingly destroyed property using fire or an explosion. Arson is a state jail felony or a third, second, or first-degree felony, depending on whether anyone is injured or dies due to the arson and where the arson occurred.
Online Solicitation of a Minor
While online solicitation of a minor doesn’t seem like a property crime, you can be charged for emailing, texting, using another electronic message service or system, or any other commercial online service to communicate in a sexually explicit manner or distribute sexually explicit material to another person who is younger than 17 or who the offender believes to be younger than 17.
The law also covers soliciting a minor online to meet anyone intending to engage in “sexual contact or intercourse or deviant sexual intercourse” with the offender or anyone else. You can be charged even if the meeting never occurs.
If the minor is over 14, online solicitation of a minor is a third-degree felony. If the minor is under 14, the court elevates the crime to a second-degree felony.
False Statements to Obtain Property or Credit
False statements to obtain property or credit are also considered fraud. An individual intentionally or knowingly makes a materially false or misleading written statement to gain property or credit, including a mortgage.
Depending on the property value, this crime may be a third, second, or first-degree felony. Sometimes people get caught up in it by fudging numbers on a credit application.
Reckless Damage or Destruction
In this case, a person recklessly damages or destroys someone else’s property without the “effective consent” of the owner. It is a Class C misdemeanor.
Why You Need a Criminal Attorney
Property crimes run the gamut from misdemeanor to felony depending on the value of the property, whether anyone was killed or hurt, and whether the offender carried a deadly weapon.
Even so, the prosecutor has a high bar to prove someone committed every element of an alleged offense beyond a reasonable doubt. Reasonable doubt allows the court to reduce or dismiss the charges. If the defense can show the individual was under duress or can otherwise justify the action, the judge or jury may not convict.
If you have been charged with a property crime in Texas, contact the Office of Brett Podolsky. We can examine your case and develop a strategy for defending you.