Texas's general theft law covers a broad range of unlawful conduct, including embezzlement, extortion, swindling, and receiving stolen property. A person can steal personal property (such as a TV, car, or money in a bank account), real property (such as land or title to land), documents (such as paper money or stock certificates), and services (such as labor, accommodations, or utilities). Penalties for theft range from a class C misdemeanor to a first-degree felony.
A person commits theft under Texas law if the person "unlawfully appropriates property with intent to deprive the owner of property." In plain English, this means you commit theft when you take something that doesn't belong to you, without consent or any other legal justification for doing so, and at the time of the offense, you have no intention of giving the property back to its rightful owner. Theft of services occurs when a person secures a service and doesn't intend to pay, even though payment is expected or agreed upon.
(Tex. Penal Code §§ 31.03, 31.04 (2023).)
Like most states, Texas classifies its theft offenses according to the value of the stolen property or services—and, in some instances, by the type of property taken. Penalties range from a misdemeanor to a first-degree felony. In addition to fines and possible imprisonment, a judge can order an offender to pay restitution to the victim (for losses resulting from theft).
Theft is a class C misdemeanor if the value of the stolen property or services is less than $100. The punishment for a class C misdemeanor includes a fine of up to $500 but does not involve any jail time.
Theft is a class B misdemeanor if:
The punishment for a class B misdemeanor can include a fine of no more than $2,000, imprisonment for no more than 180 days, or both.
Theft is a class A misdemeanor if the value of the stolen property or services is $750 or more but less than $2,500. The punishment for a class A misdemeanor can include a fine of no more than $4,000, imprisonment for no more than one year, or both.
Theft is a state jail felony if:
The punishment for a state jail felony theft can include a fine of no more than $10,000, imprisonment ranging from 180 days to two years, or both. A state jail felony will bump up to a third-degree felony if the defendant used or exhibited a deadly weapon during the commission of the offense or had a previous felony conviction.
Theft is a felony of the third degree if:
The punishment for a third-degree felony is a fine of no more than $10,000, imprisonment ranging from 2 to 10 years, or both.
Theft is a felony of the second degree if:
The punishment for a second-degree felony is a fine of not more than $10,000, imprisonment ranging from 2 to 20 years, or both.
Theft is a felony of the first degree if the value of the stolen property or services is $300,000 or more. The punishment for a first-degree felony is a fine of not more than $10,000, imprisonment ranging from 5 to 99 years, or both.
The penalty for a theft offense increases to the next offense level (for example, a third-degree felony goes up to a second-degree felony) if any of the following are true:
(Tex. Penal Code §§ 12.21 to 12.23, 12.32 to 12.35, 31.03, and 31.04 (2023).)
Retail theft (often called shoplifting) falls under the general theft laws, with criminal penalties based on the value of goods stolen (see above). An offender can also receive enhanced penalties for preventing or attempting to prevent a retail theft detector from going off or using a device that deactivates a retail theft detector. Finally, a person may be charged with a class A misdemeanor if they make or distribute a device that is used to deactivate a retail theft detector.
(Tex. Penal Code §§ 31.03, 31.15, and 31.16 (2023).)
A person who commits theft (including shoplifting) may be civilly liable to the theft victim on top of facing criminal penalties. Texas law allows for a criminal prosecution (brought by a government prosecutor) and a civil lawsuit (brought by the victim).
The theft victim (such as a store owner in a shoplifting case) can file a lawsuit in civil court to recover :
When the offender is a child, the parent or legal guardian will be liable for the civil damages. But the law limits the parent's liability to actual damages caused by the theft, with a cap of $5,000, and legal fees and costs (no civil penalty).
(Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code §§ 134.003 and following (2023).)
If you've been charged with a theft crime, it's important to seek legal advice from an experienced criminal defense lawyer. An attorney can protect your rights, explain your options, and zealously defend your case. Be sure to ask your attorney about the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction. Theft charges can negatively affect future employment, ability to qualify for housing, and even immigration status.