A person commits theft under Texas law if the person “unlawfully appropriates property with intent to deprive the owner of property.” (Tex. Pen. Code Ann. § 31.03.)
The criminal offense of theft is comprised of three elements: the item involved must have value, there must be intent by the defendant to appropriate the item, and the item must have been appropriated without the consent of the owner.
Like the majority of states, Texas classifies its theft offenses according to the value of the stolen property or services, and in some instances by the type of property that is taken. Theft and larceny encompass a wide range of criminal activity such as shoplifting, the actual theft that takes place during a burglary or robbery, or virtually any non-consensual taking of property from another person or business. Writing bad checks and certain types of fraud may also fall under the classification of theft.
Because the crimes in question are so varied the possible sentences vary widely as well. The average sentence for larceny and theft in the criminal system is just over two and a half years - almost exactly the same as the average sentence for burglary. The average sentences in state courts are somewhat lower.
The largest disparity occurs in the area of motor vehicle theft, where state court sentences average 18 months and federal court sentences nearly 11 years.There are many property crimes that involve the destruction of property rather than theft or intrusion, with arson being considered the most serious of them in most jurisdictions.
The ranges of punishment for any theft allegation are based on the amount of loss or intended loss. For instance, shoplifting of less than $50 is a Class C Misdemeanor punishable by fine only. There is then a "Theft Ladder" that ratchets up to felonies as the amount of loss increases. Often, in these cases, the way the government calculates the amount of loss is a matter of contention.
If a person has one prior conviction for any level of theft, any theft that the person later commits in Texas, involving property or services valued at less than $50, will become a Class B misdemeanor rather than a Class C misdemeanor.
If a person has two or more prior convictions for any level of theft, any theft that the person later commits in Texas, involving property or services valued at less than $1,500, will become a state jail felony rather than a Class B or Class A misdemeanor.
In addition to criminal penalties, a person who commits theft (including shoplifting) in the state of Texas may be civilly liable to the theft victim under the Texas Theft Liability Act. The theft victim (i.e. the store owner in a shoplifting case) may recover a monetary award that includes actual damages caused by the theft (such as the retail value of the item if not returned in sellable condition), and a civil penalty of no more than $1,000.
The parent or legal guardian of a minor who commits theft also may be civilly liable under the Texas Theft Liability Act, but monetary recovery is limited to the actual damages caused by the theft, with a cap of $5,000, and no civil penalty is available.
An experienced Criminal Defense attorney is necessary to investigate, evaluate and use the existing Law to mitigate or in some cases, eliminate these numbers.
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