Also, theft exists under a long list of crimes that may come with enhanced penalties. Each state defines misdemeanor and felony theft differently. Here is how Texas sees it.
First, Some Terms and Definitions
State law depends on something called appropriation, which is defined as the transfer of title or non possessory interest in any property other than real property (land). In other words, any transaction transferring ownership of non-real property from one party to another.
Appropriation can be lawful or unlawful. Unlawful appropriation is typically called theft and occurs under various circumstances and legal definitions.
Unlawful appropriation includes:
- Allocating property without the effective consent of the owner
- Appropriating stolen property knowing that another party stole it
- Appropriate property believing another stole it when law enforcement has custody of the stolen property
Effective consent means the property owner or a legally authorized representative can allow the transfer of property ownership from one party to another. The owner or representative must provide consent for ownership transfer without deception or coercion.
Consent must come directly from the individual who can legally act on the owner’s behalf, not a person any party knows is not acting on behalf of the owner. Anyone too young, intoxicated, or with a mental condition cannot give effective consent.
Effective consent must come from someone of sound mental capacity who can make a rational and informed decision while transferring ownership of the property to another party.
An Overview of Theft
Theft has multiple names depending on the property stolen:
- Extortion (blackmail)
- Receiving stolen property
- Grand theft
- Grand theft auto
- Organized retail theft
- Theft of trade secrets
- Theft by check
- Cargo theft
Theft includes various types of property:
- Personal property, such as money, an automobile, or a TV
- Real property, meaning land or title to land
- Documents, like stock certificates
- Services, such as labor, utilities, or accommodations
Using the term “appropriation,” Texas defines theft as a person unlawfully appropriating property with the intent to deprive the owner of said property. In short, you took something that doesn’t belong to you without the owner’s consent and don’t plan to give it back.
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Theft is a misdemeanor unless the act meets the criteria for felony theft.
Class C misdemeanor theft carries the lowest penalties:
- The value of the stolen property or services is worth less than $100.
- The perpetrator can be fined up to $500 but will not receive jail time.
Class B misdemeanor theft has the following criteria:
- The value of the stolen property or services is worth $100 but less than $750, or
- The value of the stolen property is less than $100, but the theft is the defendant’s second or subsequent theft offense, or
- The stolen property is a driver’s license or another identification card.
The penalty for Class B misdemeanor theft includes fines up to $2,000 and up to 180 days in jail.
Class A misdemeanor theft carries the highest penalties for misdemeanor theft:
- The value of the stolen property or services is worth at least $750 but less than $2,500.
- The perpetrator can be fined up to $4,000 and receive up to one year in prison.
The value limit on Class A misdemeanor theft tells you where Texas law draws the line between misdemeanor theft and felony theft. Also, if you noticed, Class B misdemeanor theft mentions an exception for an alleged offender with prior theft convictions, another line between a misdemeanor and a felony in Texas.
Theft becomes a felony when the specific object taken is valued at $2,500 or more, or the alleged offender has prior theft convictions. A prosecutor may choose to pool multiple misdemeanor-level thefts into one offense that elevates them into a single felony-level crime.
Felony theft carries harsher penalties compared to misdemeanor theft.
State jail felony theft is the lowest level of felony theft. The alleged offender can receive 180 days to two years in state jail and a fine of up to $10,000. State jail felony theft means stealing:
- Property is valued at least $2,500 but less than $30,000.
- Property of that value is taken from a person or a grave.
- A firearm
- An official ballot
- Metal values at less than $20,000
A state jail felony can rise to a third-degree felony if the offender:
- Stole property valued at less than $2,5000 but was convicted two or more times before of theft, or
- Uses or exhibits a deadly weapon during the theft, or
- Has a previous felony conviction
Third-degree felony theft includes the theft of:
- Property worth at least $30,000 but less than $150,000, or
- Is a controlled substance taken from a commercial building or vehicle owned or operated by an authorized manufacturer or distributor, or
- Ten or more sheep, swine, or goats worth less than $150,000 (rustling)
An offender can receive two to ten years in prison and fines up to $10,000.
Second-degree felony theft includes the theft of:
- Property worth at least $150,000 but less than $300,000, or
- The property was an ATM, its contents, or its components
An offender can receive up to 20 years in prison and fines up to $10,000.
First-degree felony theft is just under a capital felony in severity. The only first-degree felony theft on the books in Texas is when a perpetrator steals property valued at or above $300,000.
An offender can receive up to $10,000 and five to 99 years in prison.
The penalties for theft can increase to the next level if the following applies if the stolen property:
- Was under the control of a public servant
- Was under the control of someone in a contractual relationship with the government
- Belonged to an owner aged 65 or older or a non-profit organization
- Was under the control of a Medicare provider
- Was taken when a fire alarm went off or was prevented from going off during the commission of an offense
If you are arrested because you stole $50,000 worth of property from a public servant, your third-degree felony becomes a second-degree felony, potentially doubling your time in prison.
Have you been charged with theft in Texas? Attorney Brett Podolsky can help »
Do You Need a Lawyer?
Yes. Yes, you do. You need an experienced criminal attorney who can comb through the arrest and evidence to determine if the charges are warranted and ensure your rights are not violated.
Even something seemingly harmless like shoplifting carries significant penalties worth more than the value of the stolen items. An attorney is essential.
If you face charges of theft, no matter the value or the circumstances, retaining a criminal lawyer is in your best interests. Call the Office of Brett Podolsky for help.