You've probably heard stories of unfortunate cases where a teenager steals something small and finds himself facing criminal charges, despite being young and the item taken being of very little value. Every theft, no matter how small, is considered, under Texas law, to be a crime of "moral turpitude," which means the law considers it a crime that is inherently dishonest. Theft is committed when a person unlawfully appropriates property with the intent to deprive the owner of the property. The appropriation, or taking of the property, is unlawful if it is done without the owner's consent, or you get the property from someone else knowing it is stolen. A conviction for theft of even a $10.00 item can result in lifelong consequences. Since this is a crime of moral turpitude, not only are you prohibited from ever serving on a jury in the State of Texas, it could very likely prevent you from securing employment in the future. It's important to remember that theft by check is considered theft, just like stealing property, and is also considered a crime of moral turpitude.
Theft crimes can range from a misdemeanor to a first-degree felony with consequences ranging from a small fine of no more than $500 up to 99 years or Life in prison, depending on the monetary value of the property that was taken without the owner's consent. It is crucial to contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible after an arrest.
Additionally, the law allows for the aggregation of amounts involved in a theft. The value of the property obtained in violation of the theft statute (Chapter 31 of the Texas Penal Code) is obtained pursuant to one scheme or continuing course of conduct. Even if from different sources, the conduct may be considered as one offense and the amounts aggregated in determining the level of the offense. This means you could have numerous misdemeanor thefts, where the items were taken at different times and from different owners, but pursuant to one scheme or continuing course of conduct, and the values added together to allege one felony offense.
Thefts are also crimes where the punishment in one case can be increased to a higher level offense if you have a previous conviction for Theft. In Texas, crimes of theft are divided into the following two primary categories based on the value of the property that was alleged to have been taken without the consent of the owner:
Misdemeanor thefts can be divided into three categories:
the value of the property stolen is less than $100
punishable by a fine only, not to exceed $500
the value of the property stolen is $100 or more but less than $750
punishable by not more than 180 days and a fine not to exceed $2,000
the value of the property stolen is $750 or more but less than $2,500
punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine not to exceed $4,000
Felony theft can be divided into four categories:
the value of the property stolen is $2,500 or more but less than $30,000,
punishable by 180 days to 2 years in a State Jail Facility and a fine not to exceed $10,000
the value of the property stolen is $30,000 or more but less than
$150,000, punishable by not less than 2 nor more than 10 years in prison, and a fine not to exceed $10,000
the value of the property stolen is $150,000 or more but less than $300,000, punishable by not less than 2 nor more than 20 years in prison, and a fine not to exceed $10,000
the value of the property stolen is $300,000 or more, punishable by not less than 5 nor more than 99 years or Life in prison, and a fine not to exceed $10,000
Theft of service occurs when a person, acting with intent to avoid payment for services that the actor knows is provided only for compensation, intentionally or knowingly secures performance of the services by deception or threat. The offense can also be committed if the actor diverts other services to the actor’s own benefit. The most common way this offense is committed is when the actor intentionally secures the performance of services by agreeing to pay for those services, and after the services have been rendered, fails to make full payment after receiving notice demanding payment.
The degree of offense depends on the value of the services that were provided and is exactly the same as those listed above for theft.
This offense is committed when the actor intentionally or knowingly operated another’s boat, airplane, or motor propelled vehicle without the effective consent of the owner.
This crime is a State Jail felony punishable by not less than 180 days nor more than 2 years in a State jail Facility, and a fine, if any, not to exceed $10,000.
The difference between unauthorized use of a motor vehicle (UUMV) and theft is that with UUMV, you do not have to have the intent to deprive the owner of the property. Just operating the other person’s boat, airplane, or vehicle without their consent is enough, even if you intend on returning it.
Possible defenses against theft allegations can vary depending on the facts of each individual case. One of the first things the attorney should consider in representing his client is whether the property was in fact unlawfully appropriated, or whether the actor had permission, or believed he had permission, from the owner to possess the property. To be guilty of theft, the prosecutor must prove that the actor took the property with the intent to deprive the owner of the property. The facts should be looked at carefully to develop the defense, that even though the actor possessed the property, he believed he had the consent to possess the property and intended to return it to the owner.
It is also essential to look at how the prosecutor determined the value of the property that is the subject of the theft. Very often, the value is less then what is alleged by the prosecutor. The defense should be prepared to challenge the value with their independent evidence and show that the value is actuality lower than what the prosecutor has alleged in the charging instrument. The value can be the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony conviction.
“Necessity” is an affirmative defense to the commission of any crime. In asserting this defense, the defendant would argue that while he knowingly engaged in the prohibited conduct, the purpose of his doing so was necessary to prevent a harm worse than the harm caused by his violation of the law. An example of this would be a mother stealing milk or food to feed her child because the child was hungry, and she did not have the money to buy food to feed him.
The prosecutor does not have to negate the existence of an affirmative defense. It is up to the defense attorney to put on evidence that the crime was committed out of necessity so that this affirmative defense can be presented in the charge to the jury.
These are just a few of the many possible defenses we may be able to argue on your behalf. Give us a call to schedule a free consultation where we will learn the specific details of your case, help you understand possible outcomes, and begin developing reasonable defenses on your behalf.