When Can Misdemeanor Theft Become Felony Theft?

The legal term for lower level charges (misdemeanors) transforming into higher level charges (felonies) is called enhancements. Enhancements are a common idea through our criminal law. In this post, I specifically want to look into the enhancement or aggregation of theft charges from a misdemeanor to a felony under Texas law. Theft includes everything from theft by check, theft of services, shoplifting, and other situations where things or services are taken but not paid for. Theft crimes are considered crimes of moral turpitude in Texas. This means that it is a crime of dishonesty. This also means that you’re going to have a very difficult time looking for a job with a theft crime on your record.

So, when can Misdemeanor Theft become Felony Theft?

First, under Texas law, a theft charge that starts off as a misdemeanor can later be aggregated or  enhanced to some form of felony. The way this enhancement works is by adding together different theft charges to charge you with a higher level crime. Let’s take a look here:

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 does that chart mean for Misdemeanor Theft and Felony Theft?

I’m going to use an example of John. Let’s say that John goes on a mini shoplifting spree in Austin, Texas. John goes to Best Buy, WalMart, and Kay Jewelers. John steals from each of those three places and each place he goes he steals $600.00 worth of items. John gets back to his house with the items in hand and days later the police knock on his door. He’s stolen $1,800.00 total.

If we look at the chart above, you may think that John would be charged with 3 Class A Misdemeanors because each theft was between $500.00 – $1,500.00. Let’s even assume John did this to avoid a felony charge on purpose. However, under Texas law, police and the prosecutors can lump all the thefts into one and essentially enhance or aggregate the charge against him. Instead of 3 Class A Misdemeanors, John is now looking at a State Jail Felony once the value of items is added up. Now John is looking at up to 2 years in state jail, day for day.

How this affects your case?

The simple answer is that you’re facing an increased punishment for your separate charges. This means more jail time, bigger fines, a longer deferred adjudication or straight probation, and other collateral consequences. The more thefts you’re accused of, the more likely that the state will ask for jail time. Adding your charges together can seriously affect your plea bargain offer. It may show that you went on a shoplifting spree. However, each instance of theft has to be looked at closely. Just because they’re lumped together doesn’t mean that they can’t be broken apart, depending on the evidence for each. Also, it’s important to keep in mind that if the charges are broken apart then your charge may be reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor. In cases like these it’s best to sit down and talk to an attorney to plan your defense. There can be a lot of moving parts in a theft case, especially when it comes to the evidence the state has against you.