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Theft and Property Crime

The law is meant to protect both person and property. The Texas Penal Code, therefore, has a wide range of criminal statutes that prohibit depriving another person of or damaging his or her land or belongings.

A conviction for theft or any type of property crime not only carries the possibility of time in jail and crippling fines. It can leave you with a criminal record that could haunt you for life. You could appear untrustworthy to lenders, and may have a tough time getting a job where you are required to handle anything valuable.

Austin Theft Defense Lawyer

If you face accusations of any type of theft or crimes against another’s property in Travis County, an attorney can help you fight the charges and keep a clean record. Austin criminal defense lawyer Kevin Bennett is an experienced advocate for those faced with charges for theft, burglary and any other type of crimes involving another’s belongings or land.

Kevin Bennett always seeks to have honest and open communication with his clients. He knows this can be a difficult time that is made easier by knowing and understanding what is happening. Kevin Bennett personally handles every aspect of your case — nothing is farmed out to other attorneys.

Call The Law Office of Kevin Bennett today at (512) 476-4626 to set up a free consultation. Kevin Bennett represents people throughout Travis County, including Austin, West Lake Hills, Sunset Valley and Lago Vista.

Theft and Property Crime Info for Travis County

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Theft Charges in the Texas Penal Code

Chapter 31 of the Texas Penal Code contains variations of the crime of theft. Theft is generally defined in Texas Penal Code § 31.03 as unlawfully appropriating, or taking, the belongings of another.

This includes traditional ideas of stealing, including shoplifting, as well as dealing in stolen goods if the person accused knew or had reason to know they were stolen. The classification of the crime depends on the value of the items stolen, how many prior offenses and, sometimes, what item was stolen:

  • For property worth less than $100, a Class C Misdemeanor for a first offense and a Class B Misdemeanor for a subsequent theft conviction;
  • A Class B Misdemeanor for property worth between $100 and $750;
  • A Class A Misdemeanor for property worth between $750 and $2,500;
  • A state jail felony if the property:
    • Is worth between $2,500 and $30,000;
    • Is livestock, less than 10 heads and is worth less than $30,000;
    • Is a firearm;
    • Is worth less than $2,500 and the accused has been convicted more than once for theft; or
    • Is aluminum, copper, brass or bronze worth less than $20,000.
  • A third degree felony if the property:
    • Is worth between $30,000 and $150,000; or
    • Is livestock worth less than $150,000;
  • A second degree felony if the property:
    • Is worth between $150,000 and $300,000; or
    • Is an ATM machine or the contents of an ATM machine worth less than $300,000; or
  • A first degree felony if the property is worth more than $300,000.

Any of the charges can be upgraded if the victim was elderly, a nonprofit organization, a public servant, a government contractor, a Medicare provider or if the accused caused a fire alarm to go off, deactivated a fire alarm, deactivated a theft prevention device or used a shielding device to work against anti-theft devices.

Theft by check means intentionally writing a bad check to purchase goods. It is presumed that a person writing the check knew it was a hot check if there was no open account associated with the check or if there were insufficient funds and the check writer did not pay within 10 days of notice.

Credit card or debit card fraud may operate in the same manner as theft by check, or a fraudulent or stolen one could be used. Debit card and credit card fraud is a state jail felony.

Theft of service means that the accused intentionally and knowingly took advantage of another person’s services without paying. Theft of services charges follow the same guidelines for value as theft of property.

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Crimes Involving Invasion or Destruction of Property Under the Texas Penal Code

Burglary (Texas Penal Code § 30.02): Burglary means to enter a home or a building that is not currently open to the public with the purpose of committing a theft, assault or felony. It can also mean entering a building currently open to the public and remaining hidden until it is closed, or entering a building and then committing a felony, theft or assault.

Burglary is a first degree felony if the building was a habitation and the act was a felony, other than felony theft. If not a felony or if the act was felony theft, it is a second degree felony. If the building was not a habitation, it is a state jail felony.

Burglary of a vehicle is a Class A Misdemeanor for a first and second offense, and a state jail felony for a subsequent offense (Texas Penal Code § 30.04). It counts as burglary if the accused only put his or her hand through the window.

Criminal Trespass (Texas Penal Code § 30.05): It is a crime to enter private property and remain on the property after receiving notice to leave. The notice can be accomplished in many way, including both verbally or by a sign that has been posted.

Criminal trespass is a Class B Misdemeanor unless the property is a habitation, which could make it a Class A Misdemeanor. If it is a critical infrastructure facility, including a natural gas, communications or water treatment facility, it is a Class A Misdemeanor. It can also be a Class A Misdemeanor if prosecutors can prove you carried a deadly weapon.

Certain narrow exceptions, like the land being agricultural or near fresh water, like Lake Travis, may make it a Class C Misdemeanor.

Criminal Mischief (Texas Penal Code § 28.03): Criminal mischief means to intentionally and knowingly damage or destroy the property of another. This includes charges involving graffiti. Criminal mischief can range from a Class C Misdemeanor to a first degree felony, depending on the valuation of the damages caused. The ranges follow the same guidelines as theft of property.

Arson (Texas Penal Code § 28.02): Arson is setting a fire or using explosives with the knowledge that the property that would be burned or destroyed is within city limits, is insured against damages, has some sort of security interest or belongs to another. It is a second degree felony, unless the property was a house, church, synagogue or place of worship, or if someone is seriously injured or killed. In those circumstances, it is a first degree felony.

It is also arson to recklessly start a fire and damage property or injure another, or start a fire creating a controlled substance, such as in a meth lab. This offense is a state jail felony.

Graffiti (Texas Penal Code § 28.08): An individual can be charged with the crime of Graffiti, if they intentionally or knowingly draw, paint, spray paint, mark on, inscribe or write on the tangible property of an owner without their permission by using:

  • Paint;
  • Permanent marker; and/or
  • An etching or engraving tool.

Typically, the amount of property damage will determine how the crime is charged. Graffiti will automatically become a state jail felony if the marking is made on a school, church, a cemetery, a public monument, or a community center even when the amount of property damage is less than $30,000.

Reckless Damage or Destruction (Texas Penal Code § 28.04):  An individual can be charged with the offense of Reckless Damage or Destruction if they recklessly damage or destroy the property a property owner without the consent of the owner. Reckless Damage or Destruction of property is considered a Class C Misdemeanor in Texas.

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Penalties for Property Crimes and Theft

  • First Degree Felony: Five to 99 years in prison or life and a fine up to $10,000
  • Second Degree Felony: Two 20 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000
  • Third Degree Felony: Two to 10 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000
  • State Jail Felony: 180 days to two years in prison and a fine up to $10,000
  • Class A Misdemeanor: Up to a year in jail and a fine up to $4,000
  • Class B Misdemeanor: Up to 180 days in jail and a fine up to $2,000
  • Class C Misdemeanor: A fine up to $500

You may also be ordered to pay restitution for property damaged or destroyed, on top of any fines and court costs. With such extensive penalties, it’s important to have an Austin criminal defense lawyer on your side.

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Fighting Charges of Theft in Travis County

If you face charges involving any kind of theft, or of the destruction of or unlawful intrusion into someone’s property, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. Call today at (512) 476-4626 to set up a consultation.