Vehicle theft in Texas can be a felony in Texas, leading to hefty fines and mandatory jail time. Unfortunately, some people end up accused of vehicle theft even if they borrowed the car from someone else and did not know it was stolen. Others may be charged with vehicle theft even if they only intended to use the vehicle for a short drive.
Just because the police and prosecutor treat you like you are guilty before you have your day in court does not mean you need to plead guilty under their terms. If you were arrested for vehicle theft in Texas, talk to your experienced Odessa criminal defense lawyer to understand your rights and defenses.
Texas Car Theft Statute
Car theft falls under the general theft statute in Texas. Under Texas Penal Code Section 31.02, theft is the unlawful appropriation of property with intent to deprive the owner of the property. For a vehicle, that involves:
- Taking the vehicle without the owner's consent;
- Taking the vehicle knowing it was stolen; or
- Taking a vehicle that law enforcement represents as being stolen.
Vehicle Theft Crime Penalties
The criminal classification and penalties for Texas theft crimes are generally based on the value of the vehicle stolen. For example, theft of a vehicle worth $2,500 or more but less than $30,000 is a state jail felony with penalties including 180 days to two years in jail and a fine of up to $10,000. A vehicle worth $30,000 or more (but less than $150,000) is a 3rd-degree felony and punishable by two to ten years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
The charges are enhanced if the owner of the vehicle was an elderly individual. For example, vehicle theft from an elderly person with a car valued at $25,000 would be charged with a 3rd-degree felony instead of a state jail felony. The enhanced charge comes with increased penalties.
Joyriding is considered “unauthorized use of a vehicle.” This is different than theft because theft involves the intent to deprive the owner of the property. If the individual returns the vehicle to the owner, it may be charged as unauthorized use of a vehicle. This is a state jail felony offense in Texas and can result in 180 days to two years in jail and a fine of up to $10,000.
Keeping a Rental Car After the Return Date
Failing to return or holding onto a rental car beyond the rental period without the consent of the owner is considered “theft of service” in Texas. Returning a rental car late and failing to pay the rental charges within 10 days is also theft of service. Theft of service can be a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the value of the service.
Stealing a car when there is a driver in the vehicle is a much more serious offense than just theft. Carjacking is a type of robbery, which involves theft through intentionally causing injury or threatening the driver or placing the driver in fear of imminent bodily harm or injury.
Taking a vehicle by force does not require the individual to seriously injure the driver. Any physical injury, such as cuts or scrapes by pulling the driver out the vehicle may be considered bodily injury and result in robbery charges.
Carjacking can be a first- or second-degree felony in Texas, depending on the situation. The penalties for second-degree felony carjacking may include:
- From two to 20 years in state prison, and
- A fine of up to $10,000.
The carjacking is elevated to “aggravated robbery” if:
- the alleged suspect uses or shows a deadly weapon;
- the alleged suspect causes serious bodily injury;
- the victim is a disabled person; or
- the victim is a person 65 years old or older.
Aggravated robbery is a felony in the first degree. The penalties for first-degree carjacking can include:
- Five years to 99 years or life imprisonment; and/or
- A fine of up to $10,000.
Defenses to Vehicle Theft Charges
Vehicle theft often involves miscommunication or a mistake on the part of the accused. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time should not result in damaging criminal record. Talk to your Odessa criminal defense lawyer about the best defenses in your vehicle theft case, which may include:
- The defendant was the owner of the vehicle;
- The owner consented to let the defendant drive the vehicle;
- The defendant never intended to deprive the owner of the vehicle;
- The defendant drove the vehicle believing it was not stolen; or
- The police violated the defendant's rights against unlawful search and seizure.
Odessa Vehicle Theft Defense Lawyer
An experienced criminal defense attorney understands how to build a strong defense that gives you the best shot at a favorable outcome, including winning your case in court or having charges dropped. If you've been charged with vehicle theft in Odessa, Texas, the Law Office of E. Jason Leach, PLLC is here to fight for you.
E. Jason Leach is a Board Certified criminal defense attorney that has dedicated his law practice to defending the accused. To set up a free consultation, contact the Law Office of E. Jason Leach today at (432) 552-7000.