Identity theft continues to be a pervasive problem in the United States. Recently, the Texas Attorney General issued a report stating that over 25,000 Texans become victims every year. With such a significant increase in these crimes, Texas prosecutors have put more financial resources into prosecuting and convicting defendants of identity theft.
Reach Out To An Identity Theft Attorney
If you’ve been charged with identity theft in Texas, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney who has successfully litigated cases on your side. The criminal defense attorneys at Ceja Law Firm PLLC will carefully review your case and explore every possible defense option. We understand how difficult it can be to be charged with a crime that can result in a felony conviction. Contact us to schedule your initial consultation and learn more about how we can fight for your rights.
Texas’ Identity Theft Law
According to the Texas Penal Code 32.51, a person can be charged with identity theft if he or she “obtains, possesses, transfers, or uses identifying information of another person without the other person’s consent and with intent to harm or defraud another.” Identity theft also includes intentionally or knowingly making a materially false or misleading written statement to obtain credit or property.
The Texas law prohibiting identity theft is broad and isn’t limited to stealing the identity of people who are alive. Defendants can be charged with identity theft even if they have stolen the identity of a deceased person. Stealing a person’s Social Security Number isn’t the only way that this crime can be committed. Stealing any other kind of identifying information can also be considered theft of identity, including the following:
- Name, address, or birthday
- Biometric data, including a person’s fingerprints, retina, voiceprint, or iris image
- Voice codes
- Social Security Number or another government-issued identification number
- Telecommunication identifying information or telecommunication access device
- Unique electronic identifying number, routing code, address, or financial institution account number
Penalties for Identity Theft
The penalties for identity theft are serious. You will have a felony conviction permanently on your criminal record if you are convicted. The severity of punishment depends on how many pieces of identifying information the defendant has allegedly stolen. Prosecutors can bring misdemeanor charges that range from a fine of $500 to a maximum sentence of one year in jail and a fine of up to $4,000.
A defendant who steals more than 50 pieces of identifying information will have the harshest penalty, a prison sentence between 5 and 99 years, as well as a fine of up to $10,000. In addition to these penalties, a court can order a convicted defendant to make restitution to the victim, including reimbursing the victim for lost income and other expenses caused by the offense.
Legal Defenses for Identity Theft Charges in Texas
The penalties for being convicted of identity theft are serious and could result in significant jail time. As a result, it’s important that you work with an experienced criminal defense attorney who will be able to consider every possible legal defense and create a compelling and unique legal strategy in your case.
Texas prosecutors are keen to convict defendants for white-collar crimes. It’s possible that the defendant may be completely innocent and the prosecution is unfairly accusing the defendant. Perhaps, you received mail intended for a neighbor and opened it without realizing that it was sent to your neighbor’s address. If the neighbor accuses you of stealing identifying information, it would be a false accusation. A defendant could be blamed for stealing information using a company computer when, in fact, another co-worker stole identifying information while at work.
Another common defense for identity theft charges is consent. If you’ve been accused of identity theft, but the alleged victim gave you permission to use his or her identity, you can’t be convicted. Permission to use the identity is a legal shield. Your attorney can provide evidence that you received consent to use someone else’s identity.
Lack of Fraudulent Intent
Prosecutors need to demonstrate that a person intended to steal another person’s identifying information to commit an unlawful act. In many cases, the circumstances surrounding identity theft aren’t clear enough to justify a charge. Simply receiving or coming across some of a person’s identifying information isn’t a crime. Prosecutors need to show that the defendant intended to steal another person’s identifying information.
Additionally, prosecutors must prove that the defendant indeed performed one or more acts that are considered to be identity theft. When the defendant stole another person’s identifying information but didn’t do so with the intent to use it for unlawful purposes, the prosecution can’t convict the defendant.
As with all criminal cases, law enforcement officers and prosecutors must respect the constitutional rights of suspects and defendants. In most cases, proving that identity theft has occurred involves seizing and searching some type of cell phone, computer device, or another electronic device.
The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution requires law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant before they search your home or electronic devices. When law enforcement officers obtain evidence through unconstitutional means, your attorney can petition the court to throw out the evidence and dismiss your case.
Discuss Your Case with a Skilled Houston Criminal Defense Attorney
Whether you believe you are under investigation for identity theft or have already been arrested and charged, we recommend immediately seeking the counsel of an experienced attorney. The Houston criminal defense attorneys at Ceja Law Firm PLLC have a proven track record of successfully defending clients charged with a wide range of white-collar crimes in state and federal court. Contact Ceja Law Firm PLLC today to discuss your case with an experienced attorney.