Person steals shoes and puts them in her bag

Can shoplifting be a felony in Texas?

By Jose Ceja
Managing Attorney

If you are arrested for shoplifting in Texas, you are likely feeling anxious about the potential criminal penalties or damage to your reputation or job prospects. One common concern among first- time shoplifting defendants is whether shoplifting is treated as a misdemeanor or felony under Texas law. A felony conviction can carry steeper penalties and long-term consequences than a misdemeanor. Fortunately, the vast majority of shoplifting cases filed throughout Texas and the Houston area are misdemeanors. However – as explained below – depending on the value of the items allegedly stolen, shoplifting could be filed as a felony. 

How is shoplifting charged in Texas?

Under Texas law, shoplifting is considered a form of theft under Texas Penal Code 31.03. There is no offense specifically called “shoplifting” (although criminal attorneys refer to shoplifting to describe a specific kind of theft). The category of the offense and the potential punishment is determined by the value of the items allegedly stolen. The sentencing ranges that are applicable to shoplifting cases are as follows:

  • Class C misdemeanor — under $100, fine of up to $500, no jail time
  • Class B misdemeanor — between $100 and $750, jail term of not more than 180 days and/or fine of no more than $2,000
  • Class A misdemeanor — between $750 and $2500, jail term of not more than 1 year and/or fine of no more than $4,000. 
  • State jail felony — between $2500 and $30,000, state jail term of not more than 2 years and/or fine of no more than $10,000
  • Third-degree felony — between $30,000 and $150,000, incarceration from 2 to 10 years and fine of no more than $10,000
  • Second-degree felony — between $150,000 and $300,000, incarceration from 2 to 20 years and fine of no more than $10,000
  • First-degree felony — $300,000 or more imprisonment from 5 to 99 years and a fine of no more than $10,000

It is important to understand that the offense of shoplifting does not require that items physically be removed from the store. The theft statute refers to “appropriation” with intent to steal, meaning that a person could be charged with shoplifting by switching price tags or concealing items if they have the intent to steal, even if they have not physically left the store. 

When can shoplifting be a felony?

As noted above, under the Texas theft statute, shoplifting can be a felony if the value of the items stolen is more than $2500. As you can imagine, it is rare for a shoplifting case to be charged as a felony due to the fact that it is unusual that a person steals items that valuable from a store (typically, felony theft involves other types of theft). 

However, under the Texas theft statute, shoplifting can also be increased to a felony if a person is charged with Class “A” theft and has one prior conviction for theft. Under the Texas theft statute, whenever a person has a prior conviction for theft, the punishment category is increased one level (for example, a Class “A” misdemeanor could be elevated to a State Jail Felony).

How to get a shoplifting charge dropped

Whether your shoplifting case is charged as a misdemeanor or felony it is critical to do everything possible to get the charge dropped. Regardless of how shoplifting is charged, it is one of the most damaging types of criminal cases to a person since it could severely limit future employment options due to the stigma associated with stealing. 

An experienced shoplifting defense attorney should have a clear strategy to protect your record. The first step should always be attacking the evidence. In many cases, prosecutors will not be able to prove that a person intended to steal. One of the requirements of the theft statute is that a person act “with intent” to deprive the owner of property. This means, for example, that a person cannot be convicted of shoplifting if they unintentionally left a store with merchandise. By far the most common defenses in shoplifting cases have to do with establishing a lack of intent to steal. 

Even if it appears that prosecutors can prove the elements of the case, it is frequently possible for an experienced criminal defense lawyer to negotiate a dismissal of the charges. In Houston, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office is generally sympathetic to first-time shoplifting defendants and is frequently willing to help them avoid a conviction. An experienced criminal defense attorney should be familiar with the available options. 

How to get a shoplifting case expunged

For an experienced shoplifting defense attorney, the goal should be to help his client obtain an expunction of the charge. Under Texas law, an expunction is the best possible way to “clean” your record and remove a shoplifting charge from your criminal history. 

If your case is dismissed, or if you go to trial and are found “not guilty,” then you would be eligible to have your shoplifting arrest expunged. An expunction can take several months, but once it is done, your shoplifting arrest will not appear on most criminal history searches and you can even deny the existence of the arrest in most cases. The procedure for an expunction of a shoplifting arrest can be found here. 

Ceja Law Firm is an excellent choice if you are facing a shoplifting charge anywhere in the Greater Houston area. We regularly obtain dismissals and expunctions for client in Houston, Conroe, Pasadena, Galveston, Richmond, Sugar Land, and more. Call today to schedule 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.