What happens if you get arrested for shoplifting at Target in Houston?

By Jose Ceja
Managing Attorney

In Texas, shoplifting is charged as theft. In the Houston area, one of the most common types of theft is shoplifting. Everyday dozens of people are arrested for shoplifting and one common location for shoplifting arrests is Target. If you are arrested for shoplifting, the most important thing is to find a way to keep the charge off of your record as a shoplifting conviction can leave a terrible stain on your record due to the stigma associated with stealing. 

In Texas, the offense level of a theft case is determined by the value of the merchandise allegedly stolen (or attempted to be stolen). The majority of shoplifting cases are charged as Class “C” misdemeanors (with the value under $100) or Class “B” misdemeanors (with the value of the merchandise being between $100 and $750).  

Under Texas Penal Code 31.03, a person commits theft when he “unlawfully appropriates property with the intent to deprive the owner of the property.” There is no requirement that a person actually leave the store. In shoplifting cases, what the State must typically prove is that a person intended to steal the items. There is no specific way that this will be proved in a shoplifting case and how intent is proved will depend on the facts of the case. Forgetting a single item at the bottom of a large shopping cart full of merchandise might be weak evidence of intent to shoplift, but concealing items in a backpack or purse could be stronger evidence. 

Large retailers like Target lose millions of dollars a year to shoplifters and have security cameras throughout the store as well as trained loss prevention officers. If you are suspected of shoplifting at Target, you will be under surveillance at the store and in many cases, loss prevention officers will wait until they see strong evidence of shoplifting before detaining you. If you are detained, you will be asked to go to a security room at the store, typically until police arrive. 

Depending the value of the items you are alleged to have shoplifted, you may be cited and released (typically this is more common with Class “C” theft under $100) or taken to the Harris County Jail and booked. If you have minimal criminal history, it is likely that you will be given a free bond and released from the jail, typically within 24 hours. At the time that you are released from jail, you will be given a court date in one of 16 Harris County Criminal Courts at Law (at the jail, you will have seen a magistrate judge, but the magistrate judge will not be your judge throughout the case). 

It is critical that you do not miss your first court date or a warrant could be issued for your arrest. Your first court date is nothing to feel anxious about. Typically, at a first court appearance for shoplifting in Houston, the judge of the court your case is assigned to will review your bond conditions and typically order that you do not return to the store where the incident is alleged to have taken place while the case is pending. 

Your attorney will then want to review the evidence. In a shoplifting case, an attorney should first challenge the facts of the case and whether the State of Texas can prove that you had the intent to steal. In order to do this, your attorney must obtain the offense report, copies of any witness statements and surveillance video. Obtaining the evidence in a shoplifting case in Houston can take up to 6 months. But on occasion, shoplifting cases are dismissed due to weak evidence, so it is very important to be patient and allow your attorney to fully investigate your case. 

While the case is going on, you may receive correspondence from law firms representing Target demanding that you pay a fee for “damages” the store allegedly incurred due to your shoplifting incident. In many cases, these letters will be sent by out-of-State law firms that are not even permitted to practice in Texas. Out of an abundance of caution, many people pay these demands (usually for $300-500), but criminal defense attorneys are nearly unanimous in the belief that these letters can be ignored. If you receive such a letter after being arrested for shoplifting, it is always a good idea to consult with an experienced shoplifting defense attorney. 

Once your attorney obtains the evidence, he should review it with you and give you his recommendation on the best way to go forward. If the case is not in your favor, one option may be the Harris County Retail Theft Diversion program, which is a program that results in the dismissal of your case, if completed successfully. 

If you are not a United States Citizen, special care must be taken with your case to ensure that a shoplifting arrest does not negatively impact your legal status. For example, if you are applying for a program like the Harris County Retail Theft Program, it is necessary to ensure that the application does not contain an admission of guilt. Even though a program run by a District Attorney could result in the dismissal of a shoplifting case, an admission of guilt made during the application process could still be used against you in an immigration proceeding. Although Ceja Law Firm focuses its practice on criminal defense, we regularly work with immigration lawyers and are aware of common immigration pitfalls for clients in criminal cases. If you have been arrested for shoplifting at Target, or any retailer, the most important thing is to find a way to get your case dismissed. For first-time shoplifting arrests, jail time is not a realistic possibility. The worst-case scenario that an experienced attorney will work to avoid is you ending up with a permanent conviction for shoplifting. Fortunately, a dismissal is possible. Once your case is dismissed, the goal is to obtain an expunction of your shoplifting case so you can truly put the incident behind you. Once your shoplifting case is dismissed, records of the arrest will be physically destroyed and you will be able to deny the existence of the arrest on a job, school or housing application. If you have been arrested for shoplifting anywhere in the Greater Houston area, call Ceja Law Firm today for a free consultation.

About the Author
Jose Ceja is the managing attorney of Ceja Law Firm. He has practiced law since 2007 and has devoted his career to the practice of criminal law. Mr. Ceja began his legal career as a felony drug prosecutor, where he prosecuted drug, gang, and violent offenses. Mr. Ceja has first or second chaired almost 100 trials, including murders, drug cases, DWIs, and assaults. In his career as a defense attorney, he has regularly obtained dismissals, not guilty verdicts, and grand jury “no bills” in a wide variety of cases.