Texas Theft Lawyer
Defending You Against Misdemeanor and Felony Theft Charges in Houston, Galveston, and City League
Being charged with a crime can carry serious consequences. This is true even when you are not facing felony, but instead misdemeanor charges. Even misdemeanor charges, which rarely carry long incarceration periods or particularly hefty fines, can still damage your reputation, prevent you from being able to secure a job, and can put a significant pause on your future opportunities.
If you have been charged with theft in Houston, Galveston, or City League, you need an experienced Texas theft lawyer on your side. At the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates, we have just the attorney you’re looking for – Tad Nelson is a board-certified criminal trial law attorney, who has also served as a former district attorney and has years’ worth of experience behind him. Our law firm will review your charges, and immediately start building the strongest defense possible.
Defining Theft and Theft Penalties in Texas
There are a variety of different degrees of theft, and associated penalties, in Texas. According to Texas Penal Code Section 31.03, a person commits an act of theft when they “unlawfully appropriate” property while intending to deprive the rightful owner of the property of ownership. Unlawfully appropriate means to take property without the owner’s consent, or to appropriate property that one knows to have been stolen.
Theft is either a misdemeanor or a felony crime depending upon the value of the property taken, as well as the type of property. For example, crimes are Class A, B, or C misdemeanors when the value of the property is less than $2,500, less than $750, or less than $100, respectively. The offense of theft becomes a state jail felony offense when the amount of property is valued at more than $2,500, or the property that is stolen is a firearm. Theft is charged as a first-degree felony, the most serious of felony charges when the amount of property stolen amounts to $300,000 or more.
Penalties for a theft conviction depend upon the class/degree of misdemeanor/felony. A class C misdemeanor may only be penalized by a small fine; a first-degree felony can be penalized by a fine of $200,000 or/and an excruciatingly long period of incarceration.
Common Types of Theft Misdemeanors in Texas
Theft Under the Texas Penal Code
The Texas Penal Code allows a person to be charged with the offense of “theft.” Under Texas law, a person can face theft charges “if he unlawfully appropriates property with an intent to deprive the owner of property.” The law explains that the unlawful appropriation of property occurs if it is taken without consent from the owner, is stolen, or if a person knows they are taking stolen property. Theft is charged as a Class C misdemeanor if the value is less than $100, as a Class B misdemeanor if the value is between $100 and less than $750, and as a Class A misdemeanor if the value is between $750 and less than $2,500. Otherwise, it will be charged as a felony.
Theft of Service
Under the Texas Penal Code, a person can face charges for theft of service if that person intends to avoid paying for a particular service and secures that service by one or more means. Theft of service results in the same penalties listed above based on the value of the services stolen or appropriated.
Presumption for Theft by Check
This is a type of theft offense that involves obtaining property or services by passing a check with insufficient funds.
Organized Retail Theft
You can face charges for organized retail theft under Texas law if you receive, possess, conceal, sell, or dispose of stolen retail merchandise. While this offense can be charged as a felony in some instances, it is often a misdemeanor offense. Whether it is a misdemeanor or felony depends upon the value of the stolen retail merchandise, with property valued at less than $2,500 resulting in misdemeanor charges.
A person in Texas can face misdemeanor mail theft charges if that person “intentionally appropriates mail from another person’s mailbox or premises without the effective consent of the addressee and with the intent to deprive that addressee of the mail.” Mail theft is a misdemeanor if a person appropriates mail from fewer than 10 addresses. Otherwise, it becomes a felony offense.
When Does Failing to Deliver a Product or Service Constitute Theft?
People often associate theft with armed robberies, such as holding up a bank at gunpoint. But many more kinds of theft fall within the category of white-collar crimes. After all, fraud is a form of theft. If you accept money from someone in exchange for a service, and you intentionally fail to provide that service but keep the money, you have for all intents and purposes wrongfully taken property from another.
CCA Reinstates Conviction of Ex-Mortuary Operator Accused of Taking Money But Not Performing Cremations
Texas law more precisely defines theft as the “unlawful appropriation of property without the effective consent of the owner with the intent to deprive the owner of the property.” The phrase “effective consent” is critical. In the context of a transaction for goods or services, the buyer voluntarily gives her property–money–to the seller. But this consent is conditioned on the seller providing the promised goods or services in return.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals recently elaborated on these principles in a case, Johnson v. State, that involved a most unusual–and disturbing–case of theft by deception. The defendant in this case ostensibly ran a mortuary, which was owned by his wife. But in fact, the “mortuary” did not own a crematory and sub-contracted its jobs to third-party providers.
When the defendant’s mortuary fell behind on its rental payments, the landlord visited the property and discovered “a number of decomposing bodies inside the building.” The local medical examiner later identified a total of eight bodies, some of which belonged to individuals who passed away more than six months earlier. The examiner also found a number of boxes that presently or previously contained cremated remains.
Prosecutors charged the defendant with two counts of theft. The first was tied to a single transaction. A woman paid the defendant’s mortuary $1,500 to cremate a relative. The defendant’s wife cashed the check, but the body was never cremated–indeed, it was one of the eight found by the landlord. The second charge was for “aggregate theft” and involved at least three more people who paid for cremations that the defendant never performed.
Although a jury convicted the defendant on both counts, an intermediate appeals court held there was insufficient evidence to support the conviction. The Court of Appeals disagreed with the intermediate court, however, and returned the case to the lower court for consideration of other issues.
With respect to the first count, the intermediate court held that since the customer who paid the $1,500 for cremation services only did so eight days before the landlord’s discovery, it was conceivable the defendant still intended to carry out the cremation. The problem with this argument, according to the Court of Criminal Appeals, was that when the defendant accepted the money it was legally impossible for him to carry out any cremations as he did not have a “funeral director in charge,” as required by Texas law.
As for the second count, the intermediate appeals court said there was evidence the defendant performed part of the services paid-for–he performed funeral services but not the cremations–once again demonstrating a lack of intent to commit theft. The Court of Criminal Appeals said this “ignored evidence” of the defendant’s history of deceiving customers. For instance, one of the defendant’s customers paid for the cremation of his mother–but the defendant returned remains of another body instead.
Helping You to Take Comfort in Your Defense
If you haven’t had any legal trouble before, this could be a very new and frightening experience for you. At our law offices, we provide you with the support and answers you need so that you can feel as comfortable as is possible while moving through the criminal defense system. We work closely with you as your case unfolds, giving you honest answers and the information you need to make the best decisions about your case.
Speak to Our Experienced Defense Lawyer Today
If you are charged with theft, we can help. Whether you are facing misdemeanor or felony charges, our law firm knows how to build the defense you need. You can schedule a free consultation with our law offices by calling us directly today. You can also contact us online.