Important Theft Crimes Questions & Answers
In Texas, the severity of the theft charge is based upon the amount of the item or money allegedly stolen. If it is under $50, it is a Class C misdemeanor subject by fine only and no jail time. If it is $50 to $500, it becomes a Class B misdemeanor with up to 6 months in jail. If it is over $500 but less than $1,500, it is a Class A misdemeanor subject to a potential jail term of 1 year. Over $1,500 to $20,000 is a state jail felony, $20,000 to a $100,000 is a third degree, and the severity of the theft case goes up as the amount in question rises.
In addition, certain types of thefts automatically become felonies. If you were to use someone’s credit card, identity theft, it is a felony regardless of the amount of dollars alleged to may have been taken. As an example, if you take somebody’s credit card, unauthorized charge and buy a $500 item, it’s still a felony.
What will happen if the Risk Manager in the store or a manager would come up to you, and tap on you on the shoulder, and say, “Follow me,” and they’ll take you a little room in the back of the store, and they’ll basically begin questioning you about what you took and how you took it? Most times, they actually have you on videos taking the item. At that point in time, they will decide what they want to do with you. Some stores, if the amount is minimal and they really don’t want to deal with the police, will just let you go and tell you don’t ever come back.
A lot of stores will basically call the local police department. They will come down and depending on the amount of the items taken will either issue a citation if it’s under $50 to appear in a municipal or JP court; or if it’s over $50, they have two options. They can either put you in handcuffs and take you down to the county jail, or they can issue you a citation to appear in county court at law or county court in a later date. At that point in time, you have a serious problem. You have been arrested for theft which is considered a crime of moral turpitude and could have tremendous effects on your ability to earn a living, get an apartment, and basically live a life.
If it’s accidental, it’s not a crime. That is not shoplifting. However, the manager or police department can view it in a different manner. As an example, somebody goes into a, say an Academy and buy a pair of tennis shoes or a pair of shoes, and then want to try them on. People sometimes what they’ll do is they’ll put the shoes on, and they’ll walk around the store with the shoes and leave the box there with their own shoes in it, come back at a later time, pick up the shoes, and leave the store, and pay for the new shoes.
What happens if you mix the boxes up or grabbed an empty box, and it’s not the box with your shoes on? You’re walking out the store with a pair of shoes that you’re not paying for, but you’re intentionally not stealing.
Sure. Hot checks are notoriously persecuted by most district attorneys and county attorneys. Basically, the amount of the check determines the severity of the case. Often, hot checks writers have more than one check outstanding. What they do is they take you the accumulative amount of the checks, or they take one or two checks, and then file it. Hot checks are theft. My advice to individuals are, initially, they will receive a letter from the district attorney’s office or the county attorney’s office saying that they have these checks there and you need to pay them before we take criminal action.
If there’s any way possible to work a deal to get these checks paid off, so the case is not filed against you, that’s what I’d recommend that you do. If by chance you can’t swing that, you can’t pay them all, then the next best thing is go get yourself a lawyer real quick because what the attorney can do is he can make arrangements to bond out of jail once you’re arrested. He can make arrangements to delay the case long enough, so you could pay the checks off. Often, I’ve been able to have cases delayed to the point where my clients had been able to pay the checks off, and then have the cases dismissed, so there would be no conviction or probation on their record which would mean that at a later date, you can come in and do an expunction of the charge.
You will get a court date. Once again, it depends on the amount that you’re charged with is where you’ll be. You could be in municipal or JP court, you could be in county court, or you could be in district court charged with a felony. You will have usually a number of court dates. The first court date would be your arraignment. That’s where you’d come in and enter your plea of guilty or not guilty. You could have some pretrial dates and eventually a trial date. You can decide to take the case to trial.
Often on shoplifting cases, we set those for trial because a lot of the stores just simply do not send their people down, spend all day in court to testify in shoplifting cases. They’re more valuable working in the store than they are in the courtroom. As a matter of course, they basically don’t send a witness down to testify. After a couple of times, you make a speedy trial motion and if you’re lucky, your case gets dismissed. Once again, if the case is dismissed, you are eligible for an expunction to seal the case from your criminal record.
Theft is a crime of moral turpitude, a very serious offense. It basically can prohibit you from getting decent paying jobs, renting apartments, getting loans, or even opening a bank account.
Let’s back up. You really don’t sign a civil demand letter. What happens is there is a statue in Texas that allows stores to seek restitution for their alleged damages as a result of shoplifting.
Basically, these stores have got together with some collection attorneys in Florida and throughout the United States that kick out these civil restitution demand letters asking anywhere from $250 to $500 for the shoplifting restitution. My advice to clients is throw it in the trash. They will never take any more action on it than send you a couple of letters.
Under Texas law, there’s basically two ways a theft can be expunged. The first one is you get what’s called “pretrial diversion”. It’s a specialized type of probation that allows you to have your case expunged at the conclusion of the period of pretrial diversion. In Bexar County, they have very strict guidelines on pretrial diversion, and they’re available to anyone under the age of 21. The other option for expunction is you get your case outright dismissed or you’re found not guilty. That also, under Texas law, allows you to do an expunction.
You can do what is called a “nondisclosure” if you received deferred adjudication probation. A nondisclosure is not and as effective as an expunction in that it seals the case to the private sector, but government entities and licensing agencies will still find out about it; whereas an expunction is a complete sealing to both the public and private sectors.
The bottom line, you’ve been charged with theft no matter where the case is pending, in municipal or JP court, or in the district court as a felony. It’s a very serious offense that if you’re not going to jail over can at least affect your ability to get employment, get apartments, to get loans, bank accounts. You need an experienced qualified criminal defense attorney to represent you on any case that you’re in charged with theft including any cases involving a NSF check, a hot check.
Often, people write a check, transfer, or move, or something happens, and they forget about making a deposit, and the check sits there and have no clue that they even have a hot check out there until they’re arrested. Other situations involve people who for whatever reason have been subject to identity theft. I’ve had a number of cases where checkbooks have been stolen and thousands and tens of thousands of dollars of hot checks written on forged signature. Attorneys are important because theft is a serious matter.