Can I Be Convicted of Misdemeanor Theft Even If Nobody Saw Me Take Anything?

May 23rd, 2019 by Tad Nelson in Misdemeanor Crimes

Petty theft is one of the more common misdemeanor crimes committed in Texas. The degree of the offense is tied to the value of the stolen property (or services). For example, if you are accused of stealing property from a store worth between $500 and $1,500, that is a Class A misdemeanor under the Texas Penal Code, punishable by up to one year in jail.

“Cumulative Force” of the Evidence Enough to Convict Defendant of Class A Misdemeanor

While many petty thefts are caught on surveillance cameras or occur in plain view of an eyewitness, neither is necessary for prosecutors to obtain a conviction. A jury may “infer” a defendant’s guilt from a combination of circumstantial evidence.

Take this recent case from Lubbock, Attebury v. State. Prosecutors accused the defendant of stealing a cylinder of refrigerant from a local retailer. Nobody saw the defendant take the refrigerant. But the circumstantial evidence was deemed sufficient to convict him of Class A misdemeanor theft.

The first piece of evidence was the testimony of the store manager. The manager said he noticed a unit of refrigerant was missing from his inventory. He suspected the defendant–a regular customer who was in the store the day before–might have taken it. As it turned out, the defendant’s truck was parked outside the store. The manager said when he inspected the truck, he saw a 50-pound jug of refrigerant that matched the type sold by the store.

The manager said he then confronted the defendant and asked him where he got the refrigerant. The defendant replied one of his employees got it “somewhere.” The manager did not believe this and told the defendant he planned to call the police and report the defendant for theft. The defendant left the scene before the police arrived. A few months later, the defendant’s mother contacted police to let them know the refrigerant cylinder was in her house.

A jury ultimately found the defendant guilty of theft. On appeal, the defendant argued the evidence was insufficient. The Court of Appeals disagreed. It noted the “cumulative force of the circumstantial evidence” was enough for the jury to conclude the defendant was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Here, the facts showed the defendant (1) was in the store the day before the refrigerant went missing, (2) the refrigerant was found in his truck the next day, (3) the defendant left the scene after the manager called the police, and (4) the refrigerant was later found in the defendant’s mother’s home. While any of these facts, standing on their own, might not support a guilty verdict, taken together they did.

Speak with a Houston Misdemeanor Crimes Defense Lawyer Today

If you are accused of petty theft, do not assume you will walk away just because nobody actually saw you take anything. You need to take the allegations seriously and contact a Houston criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Call the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today in Houston, Galveston, or League City if you need assistance, (281) 280-0100.

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