Texas Theft/Shoplifting Laws: Criminal Charges and Penalties
Theft is a broad criminal charge in Texas that includes a range of offenses from shoplifting and larceny to bouncing checks to buying stolen property. The punishments generally depend on the value of the stolen item and can be as little as a fine or as serious as prison time in extreme cases.
The Texas Penal Code defines theft as taking someone else’s property without consent, either by deception or by physically stealing it. You don’t have to keep the property for it to be considered theft, but only long enough to deprive the owner of its value. And, if you take something, then return it for a reward, that is also theft under Texas law.
To charge you with theft, the police need to show that you acted with criminal intent, meaning you knew the property belonged to someone else and knew you didn’t have their permission to take it, and that you actually have or had possession of the property. They can do by that using physical evidence, such as security camera video in a shoplifting case, or by statements from a witness, an accomplice, or you.
Types of Theft Under Texas Law
The four most common ways to commit misdemeanor theft or felony theft in Texas are these:
1. Shoplifting – Taking items out of a store with the deliberate intention of not paying the store for the full value of the item. This includes taking, say, a shirt and leaving with it, or switching the tag on an expensive shirt with the tag on a less expensive one and paying the lower price at checkout.
2. Bad Checks – Paying for an item on a closed account or an account that does not enough money to cover the amount of the check. If the check is written on a closed account, that alone is evidence of theft under Texas criminal law. If the check bounces, and you do not reimburse the merchant within 10 days of notification, then that is evidence of theft under the law.
3. General Theft – Taking an item that belongs to someone else by any means when you do not have permission. Examples of this include taking a woman’s purse from her shopping cart when her back is turned, stealing copper from a construction site, or stealing $20 from the cash register at work.
4. Buying/Accepting Stolen Property – Taking possession of an item when you know the person selling or giving it to you is not the rightful owner. If you know a friend shoplifted an item from a store, then passed the item on to you, you have committed theft known as receiving stolen property by taking it, whether you paid for it or it was a gift.
Penalties for Theft in Texas
The punishment for the criminal charge of theft in Texas is relative to the value of the item stolen. Obviously, the more value the item has the higher the penalty for taking it. And if it is more than one item, all the values are added together for the purposes of punishment.
For example, you may be charged with shoplifting five DVDs. Individually, they may be worth about $20 each. But added together, the total of the theft is $100, and that raises the seriousness of the punishment.
Penalties for Theft
|Less than $50, or less than $20 if by check
|Class C misdemeanor
|A fine of not more than $500
|$50 or more but less than $500, or $20 or more but less than $500 if by check
|Class B misdemeanor
|Not more than 180 days in a county jail and/or a fine of not more than $2,000
|$500 or more but less than $1,500
|Class A misdemeanor
|Not more than 1 year in a county jail and/or a fine of not more than $4,000
|$1,500 or more but less than $20,000
|State jail felony
|180 days to 2 years in a state jail and/or a fine of not more than $10,000
|$20,000 or more but less than $100,000
|2 to 10 years in a state prison and/or a fine of not more than $10,000
|$100,000 or more but less than $200,000
|2 to 20 years in a state prison and/or a fine of not more than $10,000
|$200,000 or more
|5 to 99 years in a state prison and/or a fine of not more than $10,000
Those punishments can also be enhanced under certain conditions. For example, Class B and C misdemeanor theft charges increase one level if you have a previous theft conviction, and a Class A misdemeanor becomes a state jail felony if you have two previous theft convictions.
Also, the theft of some items such as firearms, or metals such as copper or aluminum are felonies, no matter the actual value of the items.
Shoplifting charges also automatically become more serious if you are caught using tools to defeat theft prevention devices, or if you are charged with organized retail theft, meaning you were working with others to steal items for profit.
However, in all likelihood, if you are charged with simple theft by shoplifting and are convicted or enter a plea, you probably will receive only community service and fines, as long as the value is low and it’s a first or second offense. However, you are still stuck with a permanent criminal record which may never go away.
The fact of a permanent, public criminal record is the reason why most people hire a shoplifting defense attorney to fight the charges. Avoiding a criminal record in the internet age can save you tremendous headaches in the future. It could prevent you from getting a job, a scholarship or worse.
Civil Penalties for Shoplifting
The criminal shoplifting record for a conviction might not be the end of it, either.
A conviction for the criminal charge of theft frequently includes restitution to the victim, but Texas also has the Texas Theft Liability Act. This civil law allows the victims of theft to sue for damages and is separate from the criminal case.
The suits are typically used in shoplifting cases. The store will send you a letter demanding that you pay the value of the stolen item, as well as costs related to recovery. The law allows the victim to collect actual damages, plus up to $1,000 against an individual or actual damages, plus up to $5,000 against the parents or guardians if the accused shoplifter is a minor.
You should not try to face either the criminal charge of theft or a civil suit in a shoplifting case without consulting a Texas criminal defense lawyer who knows how to defend shoplifting/theft offenses. We can fight the case against you by challenging the reliability of eyewitness or accomplice testimony, and by questioning the legality of any searches by police or admissions you may have made to them.