In Theft Cases Money Talks And Felons Don’t Walk Says Dallas Defense Lawyer
If you are accused of theft in Texas, the value of the property taken helps determine the crime and sentence says John Helms Dallas defense lawyer.
For those accused of theft in Texas, the value of the property taken is a very important issue, says Dallas defense lawyer John Helms. Texas has a “consolidated” theft statute that combines a number of crimes into the general category of “theft,” such as swindling, embezzlement, larceny, extortion, conversion by a bailee, shoplifting, receiving stolen property, and others. See Texas Penal Code section 31.02. In general, the seriousness of a theft crime depends on the value of the money or property taken. For example, as a general rule, the following categories apply:
Less than $100: Class C misdemeanor
$100 to less than $750: Class B misdemeanor
$750 to less than $2500: Class A misdemeanor
$2500 to less than $30,000: State Jail felony
$30,000 to less than $150,000: Third degree felony
$150,000 to less than $300,000: Second degree felony
$300,000 or more: First degree felony
Obviously, for someone accused of theft, it is better for the property taken to have a lower value, because this may reduce the degree of the crime as well as the punishment. Very often, a hotly contested issue in theft cases is the value of the property taken. But how do you determine the value of property other than money? For example, if a person steals a used car, is the “value” of the car the amount that you could get if you sold the car, or is it the amount it would cost to find the victim a replacement car? The Texas Penal Code gives some guidance on this issue. Section 31.08 of the Texas Penal Code says that, in general, value means: “(1) the fair market value of the property or service at the time and place of the offense; or (2) if the fair market value of the property cannot be reasonably ascertained, the cost of replacing the property within a reasonable time after the theft.” So, in the car example, the “fair market value” of a used car would be the amount that a willing buyer would pay a willing seller for that car. This can often be determined by a car’s “blue book value.”
But what if the property stolen is something that does not have a recognized market value like a car? What if it is something like used medical equipment or art? In situations like these, determining the property’s fair market value can be more difficult. Law enforcement typically asks the victim what they think the property is worth, and they will usually assume that the victim is right unless it can be shown otherwise. But in my experience, victims tend to estimate high—often higher than is justifiable. This could be for a variety of reasons, including because they are making an insurance claim and want the value to be high or because they are angry and want the perpetrator to be punished harshly.
In defending someone accused of theft, an experienced criminal defense lawyer should seriously consider whether law enforcement’s estimate of the value of the property taken is overstated. Depending on the type of property involved, this may involve research or consulting with experts in the field who could testify at trial about the property’s value, such as an art dealer or appraiser in the case of a painting, or a jewelry appraiser in the case of jewelry, for example. I have had a lot of success presenting evidence to prosecutors that results in a reduction of the estimated value, which can result in a more favorable plea agreement offer. If the State’s offer is not favorable enough, the evidence can then be used at trial to persuade a jury that, even if the defendant is guilty, the crime is not as serious as the State claims.
If you, a family member or someone you know has been charged with a crime or have been convicted and need help with an appeal in the Dallas area, contact Dallas criminal lawyer John Helms at (214) 666-8010 or fill out the online contact form. You can discuss your case, how the law may apply and your best legal options to protect your rights and freedom.