Austin Theft Attorney
Theft Charges In Travis County
In Texas, theft is a catch-all term that incorporates any crime where property and/or services are misappropriated. The severity of the charge ranges from a class C misdemeanor all the way up to a first-degree felony. The value of the property is the main factor when determining the level of the charges. Theft charges can quickly escalate in court depending on your specific scenario which is why it’s recommended that you have a skilled Austin theft attorney by your side.
When the property is valued at less than $100, the charge is typically a class C misdemeanor, on par with a traffic ticket. When the value is greater than $2,500, the theft is charged as a felony, and anything over $300,000 is a first-degree felony. The amount of the theft can be aggregated in cases where the theft was part of “one scheme or a continuing course of conduct” (31.09). This means the prosecutor can add all the amounts together to determine the level of the charge.
In addition to the value of the property, there are other special circumstances that can enhance penalties. Theft of a firearm can be charged as a State Jail Felony regardless of the value. Controlled substances can carry additional penalties. Theft of materials aluminum, bronze, copper, or brass carries additional penalties. Because theft of these materials is so common, anyone who purchases these raw materials is required to verify and record ID. There are also niche areas that don’t come up often in Austin such as theft of an ATM machine, theft of livestock, theft of ballots, and theft of trade secrets.
Theft by Check (31.06)
One common charge in Travis County is theft by check. Yes, people still pay by check, and when there are insufficient funds for the transaction, there can be a presumption that a theft has occurred. This presumption is important for prosecutors because otherwise, it is very easy to explain a bad check as an honest mistake. Even with this presumption, in practice, these cases can usually be dismissed if restitution is paid. There is an entire bad check division at the County Attorney’s Office to handle these cases. Once restitution is paid the case can often be dismissed.
Theft of Service (31.04)
A common charge in Travis County is theft of service. This occurs when someone takes advantage of service but does not pay afterward. A common example is if you take a cab ride and don’t pay, or “dine and dash” at a restaurant without covering the bill. Another common situation is when a person holds on to a rental car longer than the agreement without paying. Theft of service can also cover a failure to pay wages to an employee or contractor as agreed. Theft of Service escalates with the value of the service in the same way that property theft would from class C misdemeanor all the way up to first-degree felony.
Unauthorized Use of Motor Vehicle (31.07)
For Unauthorized use of Motor Vehicle (UUMV), the prosecutor does not need to show that the defendant actually stole the car – just that he or she was unauthorized to use it. This is helpful for the prosecution because stolen cars often change hands after being stolen. However, if the state can show beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was merely operating the car without permission, they can secure a conviction. UUMV is charged as a State Jail Felony with a maximum penalty of 2 years.
Credit Card Abuse (32.31)
Using a stolen credit card is a little different from other types of theft and has a separate charge in the Penal Code. Regardless of the amount, it is a State Jail Felony. The State must show that the cardholder did not authorize the use. This can be an issue when a friend or family member authorizes use for the card, but the defendant holds onto it longer than he should have. Sometimes this is a mere miscommunication. Other times, it is a crime. Sometimes there are shades of grey. There are a number of technicalities with credit card abuse that don’t exist with other theft charges. If you are facing a charge of credit card abuse, it is important to contact an experienced Austin theft attorney.
Restitution For Theft Crimes
Sometimes a case can be dismissed merely by paying back what is owed. If the amount stolen can be paid to the alleged victim, many cases can be dropped. This is true for amounts small and large. Restitution is the name for these payments. There is often a dispute over the value of the stolen items. The terms of restitution can be negotiated with the prosecutor. Although not always possible, the first best option in a theft case is often to offer restitution
Defenses To The Charges In Austin, TX
If the defendant cannot afford the restitution, or if the prosecutor refuses to drop the case for other reasons, there are a number of defenses in theft cases. A good Austin theft lawyer will examine your case to see if any of the defenses are appropriate for the unique situation.
First, there is sometimes an issue with intent. Prosecutors must show that a defendant intended to commit the theft. If a person accidentally walks out of a store with merchandise in hand, this is not theft. If they thought they had permission to operate the vehicle, it is not UUMV.
Even in cases where all the elements of theft can be easily proven beyond a reasonable doubt, prosecutors are often unwilling to expend resources on small theft cases. For this reason, we can sometimes get very favorable terms for a plea deal that does not result in a conviction. With these cases, it is often the case that “you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” An experienced Austin theft attorney who handles theft cases will know when it is best to negotiate, and when it is better to fight the case on legal grounds.
Although theft charges might not be as life-changing as other criminal charges, a conviction could be a permanent mark on your criminal record, tarnishing your reputation and hindering the ability to get jobs. Some theft can be considered a crime of moral turpitude, which has some collateral legal consequences and can keep you from serving on a jury. It is important to handle these cases in the best possible way so that your future is not unnecessarily harmed.
Contact An Austin Theft Attorney Today
If you or a loved one is facing a theft charge in or around Travis County, contact a proven Austin theft defense lawyer. These charges are serious and can often accumulate additional charges without expert representation. ATX Legal offers free case evaluation and payment plans.