Auto Theft

In the state of Texas, auto theft falls under the broader category of theft offenses as well as the more specific crime of Unauthorized Vehicle Use. Below, Price & Twine, PLLC goes over the Texas auto theft laws, including penalties, possible defenses, and the purpose of involving a criminal defense lawyer if facing charges.

Georgetown Auto Theft Defense Lawyers

Experienced theft lawyers at Price & Twine, PLLC are dedicated to protecting clients’ rights in criminal cases, guiding them through the criminal process, and using strong defense strategies tailored to each client’s unique situation. An auto theft attorney at Price & Twine, PLLC can make a significant difference in your case’s outcome. To learn more, dial (512) 354-1880 or contact us online to schedule a confidential consultation today.

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Understanding Theft in Texas Code

According to Texas Penal Code Section 31.03, a person is guilty of theft if they take an owner’s property unlawfully intending to deprive the owner of that property. The law covers several scenarios in which an individual’s actions are considered unlawful. This includes when the property was appropriated without the owner’s consent or if the property taken was known by the individual to be stolen property.

The penalties for theft vary based on the value of the property stolen. The following schedule is a rough estimate of the potential sentencing.

More than $100 Class C Misdemeanor
More than $100, less than $750 Class B Misdemeanor
More than $750, less than $2,500 Class A Misdemeanor
More than $2,500, less than $30,000 State Jail Felony
More than $30,000, less than $150,000 Third-Degree Felony
More than $150,000, less than $300,000 Second-Degree Felony
More than $300,000 First-Degree Felony

In cases involving public servants, elderly individuals, or nonprofit organizations as victims, the offense may be enhanced.

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Unauthorized Use

Unauthorized Vehicle Use is specifically covered under Texas Code Section 31.07. A person commits this offense if they knowingly or intentionally operate someone else’s airplane, boat, or vehicle without the owner’s consent. Unlike routine theft, which requires an intent to deprive the owner of their property permanently, unauthorized use may involve only temporary deprivation but is still a state jail felony punishable by 180 days to 2 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.

Auto Theft and Intent to Deprive

Texas law takes into consideration the “intent to deprive” when determining the classification of a theft offense. Unlike simple unauthorized vehicle use, theft would involve the intent to permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle. Therefore, the legal consequences may vary significantly depending on whether the prosecution can establish this element of intent.

Auto Theft and “Pawning” Vehicles

Those in the business of buying, selling, or pawning used or secondhand personal property must comply with strict rules under Texas law. Failure to follow these rules could result in a presumption of knowledge that the property pawned was actually stolen. This could be particularly relevant for auto salvage yards or used car dealerships and may result in them being implicated in an auto theft case.

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Possible Defenses in Auto Theft Cases

Lack Of Intent

In Texas, the crime of theft requires intent to permanently deprive the owner of their property. If the accused person can demonstrate that they did not have this intent, then the charges may not hold up in court. For example, if an individual took a vehicle thinking it was theirs by mistake and returned it upon realizing the error, it may serve as a defense.

Owner’s Consent

The law states that appropriation is unlawful if it is without the owner’s effective consent. Therefore, if the accused had the owner’s permission to use the vehicle, then the element of ‘unlawful’ appropriation is missing, and the charge of theft could be dismissed.

Absence Of Knowledge

Texas law states that knowingly appropriating stolen property constitutes theft. If the accused had no knowledge that the vehicle was stolen, this could serve as a defense. This will largely depend on the specifics of the case and the available evidence.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is It Still a Crime if The Car Is Returned?

Yes. Returning the stolen property does not negate the crime. The law focuses on the unlawful appropriation with the intent to deprive, whether temporary or permanent.

How Does Prior Criminal History Affect a Current Auto Theft Case?

According to the law, if a person has been previously convicted of any grade of theft, the penalties for a current theft crime can be more severe. For example, theft of property valued less than $100 can be elevated to a Class B misdemeanor if the person has a prior theft conviction.

Is Possession of Stolen Property The Same As Theft?

Not necessarily. While Section 31.03 does criminalize knowingly receiving stolen property, mere possession is not enough to prove theft. The prosecution must also show the intent to deprive the owner of the property.

What Does Effective Consent Mean?

Effective consent refers to the permission given by the owner for the use of their property. The absence of effective consent turns the appropriation of property into theft.

What If the Accused Believed The Property Was Abandoned?

The defense might argue that there was no intention to deprive the owner of the property, as the accused believed the property to be abandoned. However, proving this might be difficult and would depend on the circumstances surrounding the case.

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Texas Department of Motor Vehicles

Offers information on stolen vehicle reporting and prevention.
Visit Texas DMV

Texas State Law Library

Provides access to auto theft laws in Texas.
Visit Texas State Law Library

United States Department of Justice

Provides federal laws and resources about auto theft.
Visit DOJ

Texas Attorney General – Consumer Protection

Provides consumer protection resources which may include auto theft laws.
Visit Texas Attorney General

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Hire an Auto Theft Defense Attorney in Georgetown, TX

The importance of having experienced auto theft lawyers by your side cannot be overstated. At Price & Twine, PLLC, we work hard to protect each client’s rights and provide each client with a strong defense that fits their unique circumstances. Charged with auto theft? Act now by calling (512) 354-1880 or contact us online for a confidential consultation.

For more information on theft charges, click here.

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