Being arrested for theft in Texas is an upsetting experience. No matter what the circumstances, you are likely to feel frightened, and powerless against law enforcement and prosecution. Although many theft offenses are filed as misdemeanors, being convicted of any theft can make it very difficult to find employment due the stigma associated with stealing. For anyone who is not a citizen, being convicted of theft can be very damaging to a person’s immigration case. If you find yourself in accused of any crime involving theft, the best decision you can make is to call an aggressive criminal defense attorney.
Ceja Law Firm PLLC, serving clients in Houston and the surrounding areas, is one of the highest ranked legal practices in Texas and in the country. Jose Ceja, the lead attorney, has a well-earned reputation for compassion as well as for skillful litigation.
Texas Penal Code §31.03 : Defining Theft
In order to fight theft charges, it is important to understand some of the basics of Texas law regarding theft. Under Texas Penal Code 31.03, a person commits theft by unlawfully “appropriating” property with the intent to deprive the owner of the property. Essentially, this means that theft has been committed when you take something that doesn’t belong to you without the owner’s consent or any other legal justification. It is important to remember that to prove theft charges it must be established that, at the time of the offense, the individual committing the crime has no intention of giving the property back.
In Texas, theft is a broad category that includes “theft of services” as well as theft of property, shoplifting and selling or buying property you know to be stolen. The seriousness of the offense is determined by the value of the items allegedly taken.
Why You Need Our Theft Defense Attorney
At Ceja Law, we understand your predicament. Being charged with theft is embarrassing as well as anxiety-producing. Jose Ceja is a defense attorney who has in-depth familiarity with the law regarding theft. You can trust him to provide a theft defense while also protecting your civil rights and your liberty. With him at your side, you can have confidence that your case will have the best chance of a positive outcome, whether it is a dismissal of charges, a verdict of not guilty, or a reduction of charges. He will listen to your story carefully, examine all police reports, interview any witnesses, and create the strategy that will win.
Types of Theft Crimes & Their Penalties
Texas classifies theft offenses by the value of the stolen property or services and their punishment 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
The goal of a theft case is always to obtain a dismissal of the charge. In addition to the value of the items, there are many factors that could affect the outcome of a theft case including a defendant’s criminal history, the nature of a theft (whether the theft was from a store or an individual), and the court the case is assigned to. In addition to the possibility of a fine or jail time, the “secondary” consequences of a theft conviction can include difficulty finding employment, housing or legal status in the country. This is why it is critical to hire experienced, effective representation for any theft charge.
Other Theft-Related Offenses In Texas
There are several other offenses in Texas that are similar to theft but often involve other factors as well. The following offenses are also variations of the offense of theft:
- Robbery: Taking something from another person via threats, intimidation, or force. This may or may not involve the actual taking of property.
- Burglary: Entering a structure with the intent to commit a crime. This offense often involves theft but does not have to.
- Having a meal in a restaurant and walking out without paying, sneaking into a movie
- Signing an agreement to pay for something and then (without good cause) failing to do so
Civil Penalties for Theft in Texas
You should be aware that, if convicted of theft, in addition to criminal penalties, you may be civilly liable to the victim. According to the Texas Theft Liability Act, the theft victim may recover monetary damages that include the retail value of the item (if not returned in good condition) and a civil penalty of no more than $1,000. It is also worth noting that the parent or legal guardian of a minor who commits theft may also be civilly liable under the same act. In such cases, however, the recovery amount is limited to the actual value of the item stolen with a cap of $5,000.
Common Theft Defense Strategies
Ceja Law has a fine track record of successfully defending clients charged with misdemeanor or felony theft. In theft cases, the most common defenses involve a person’s intent. As noted above, to be guilty of theft, a person must have acted with the intent to appropriate an item, and evidence of intent may be lacking in some cases. Other less common defense tactics include:
- Alibi or mistaken identity:
- Mistake of fact: you mistakenly believed the stolen property belonged to you.
- Rightful ownership: The items you were accused of stealing actually belong to you and you can prove it.
- Entrapment: Although this defense is rarely used in theft cases, it may be available if law enforcement pressured you to commit the crime.
- Duress: Also rarely used in theft cases, the defense of duress could be available to you if someone forced you to steal by threatening you or your family with imminent injury.
How Do I Keep a Theft Conviction Off My Record?
The goal for any theft-related offense should be a dismissal. If your case is dismissed, you will normally be eligible to have your records expunged, which permanently erases any record of the theft offense. In Texas, only the prosecutor can generally dismiss your case. If your case is not dismissed, you will have several options.
One is to work out a plea for regular probation of deferred adjudication. The problem with regular probation is that it leaves a permanent conviction on your record that cannot be expunged or sealed. Successfully completing a deferred adjudication probation might allow you to be able to get your records sealed, but that is still not as good as getting your case dismissed as certain agencies would still be able to see the offense, even if your records are sealed.
In some cases, prosecutors are willing to offer what is known as a pre-trial diversion for theft cases. This is basically a contract with the District Attorney’s Office where they agree to dismiss your case if you complete certain things, like community service or a theft related class. This option is only available in some counties, for some types of cases and for defendants with minimal criminal history.
The last option is a trial. Winning a trial is always a great result and would allow you to get an expunction immediately if you are acquitted (found “not guilty). However, losing a trial will result in a permanent conviction on your record. Jose Ceja is an experienced trial attorney and can advise you on the best strategy to defend your case.
Can theft charges be expunged?
Theft charges can be expunged if your case is dismissed or if you are acquitted at trial. In Texas, an expunction of a theft charge is the best possible result as it causes all records relating to your arrest to be destroyed. Additionally, if you are asked about the arrest, in most cases you are legally permitted to deny it (on a job application, for example). In other words, after your theft case is expunged, in many ways it is as if the arrest never happened.
It is important to remember that you will not be eligible for an expunction of a theft charge if you accept regular probation or deferred adjudication probation (the only exception is that a Class “C” deferred may be expungable). It is always important to fully understand how a potential resolution of any criminal case can affect your right to an expunction.
How long does theft stay on your record in Texas?
The length of time that a theft case stays on your record depends on what the result of your case is. If you are convicted of theft after accepting a jail sentence (including time-served) or a regular probation, a theft charge would become a permanent conviction that may never be expunged or sealed. If you successfully complete a deferred adjudication probation, you may be eligible to have a theft case sealed, but the case will never be fully wiped off your record. If your case is expunged, a theft charge could be completely removed from your record.
The length of time it takes to get your records sealed or to obtain an expunction will vary. First, your case must be resolved and then your attorney may help you get your records sealed or an expunction if you are eligible for one.
Contact Our Houston Theft Defense Attorney
If you have been arrested for theft in Texas, there is no time to waste. Check out our credentials and give us a call or contact us through our website. We are here to help.
Ceja Law Firm handles theft defense cases throughout Texas including Houston, Brazoria County, Chambers County, Fort Bend County, Galveston County, Harris County, Liberty County, Montgomery County, Walker County, and Waller County.