What is the Difference Between Shoplifting and Theft?

Some of my clients have come in after being arrested for shoplifting or theft in Travis County or Williamson County. Depending on whether you’re arrested in Austin, Georgetown, Round Rock, Pflugerville etc… can have an impact on your case.  The reason I say that is because different programs are available in different counties. Not only that, but when it comes to theft charges, there are serious and lifelong collateral consequences of conviction for shoplifting, theft, theft by check “hot checks”, and buying or receiving stolen property on your record. These collateral consequences don’t even include the Civil Penalties (being sued by the owner) of theft crimes. A misdemeanor lawyer in Georgetown should be able to guide you through the process. Pretty often, one of the questions on their mind is what is the difference between shoplifting and theft? The short answer is that all shoplifting is theft but not all theft is shoplifting. Let me explain why.

What is shoplifting?

In Texas, shoplifting is basically taking property from a store owner with the intention of not paying the owner the price of the products. A store owner isn’t just limited to a mom and pop store. What is the difference bewtween shoplifting and theftIt also includes Wal-Mart, Target, Kohl’s etc… You can be arrested for shoplifting for switching tags on items so you pay less, putting on clothes and trying to leave without paying, or hiding items in other items so you don’t have to pay for them. More often than not, clients have put clothes underneath their clothes and have not removed security sensors. Depending on the value of the items you’ve been arrested for shoplifting, the crime can range from a Class C Misdemeanor to a First Degree Felony. NEVER JUST ‘PLEAD GUILTY” TO ANY CLASS C MISDEMEANOR – ESPECIALLY THEFT!!!. The greater the value of the items stolen, the greater amount of jail and/or fine you’ll be facing. More often than not, these cases will be between a Class C Misdemeanor if under $50 or a State Jail Felony.

Crime Level                                                                Punishment

  • Class C Misdemeanor $50 or Less –                 $500 fine/No Jail Time
  • Class B Misdemeanor $50-$500 –                     $2,000 fine/180 Days Jail
  • Class A Misdemeanor $500 – $1,500 –              $4,000 fine/1 year Jail
  • State Jail Felony – $1,500 – $20,000 –                 $10,000 fine/6 Months Jail up to 2 years
  • Third Degree Felony – $20,000 – $100,000        $10,000 fine/ 2 years to 10 years
  • Second Degree Felony – $100,000 – $200,000   $10,000 fine/ 2 years to 20 years
  • First Degree Felony – $200,000 and Up –           $10,000 fine/ 5 years to 99 years/Life

What is theft?

Theft in Texas is almost identical to shoplifting that I talked about above. One of the main differences is that it doesn’t have to be a store owner or shop keeper. Theft is simply defined as taking something of value, from someone else, without their permission. A good example of theft would be: a truck is sitting in a parking lot and you see a bicycle on a bike rack in the back. You go over to the bed of the truck and take the bicycle out and put it in your car and leave. Theft charges fall into the same categories listed above in terms of jail time and/or fines.

What can I expect for my theft or shoplifting case?

In this situation the answer is “it depends.” Like so many areas of the law, it depends is the answer because cases can be very fact specific. By this I mean:

  1. What kind of items were taken? (Theft of guns and some metals are automatic felonies)
  2. How were they taken?
  3. Was there video/pictures/witnesses of you taking the items?
  4. Do you have previous theft convictions?
  5. Were you given permission?

The answers to these types of questions are the most important. If you’re accused of stealing guns, aluminum, or copper, you will certainly be facing felony theft charges in Texas. If the items were taken by force, there may be claims of robbery. The videos/pictures/witnesses against you will come out during the criminal discovery process once a lawyer starts working on your case. Identifying you as the person who took the items can be tricky when cameras are low quality, you came in with a group of people, or a loss prevention security guard did not get a good look at you. As far as background goes, prior convictions for theft can “enhance” or increase the potential punishment against you. Class C and B misdemeanors can get enhanced or bumped up to a Class A misdemeanor theft for a prior conviction. Theft crimes are considered “crimes of moral turpitude” in Texas. Crimes of moral turpitude are considered those crimes which show bad character on your part. Finding good paying employment can be difficult if not near impossible with a theft conviction on your record. Depending on how you case is finalized, you may be eligible for some type of record sealing by Expunction or Non-Disclosure.


Convictions for theft crimes, shoplifting, theft by check, etc… will never look good on your record. The greater the value of items that you’ve been accused of stealing, the greater potential for jail/prison time. If you’ve been arrested for theft in Texas, it is important that you get a defense lawyer as soon as possible to work on your case. Avoiding a conviction should be your ultimate goal in plea bargaining. The lifelong consequences might not be obvious now, but they can cost you big time. Hiring a lawyer may be expensive in the moment, but think of the VALUE that avoiding a conviction will have on how much you can earn, over the length of your career, and the length of your life.

Comment below to ask questions!