How Are Theft, Robbery, and Burglary Charges Defined in Texas?
Texas law defines theft as when a person unlawfully appropriates property with the intent to deprive the owner of the property.
“Appropriate” means to take something or to exercise control over it. The vast majority of theft cases involve appropriating property by physically taking it, but there are situations where you could be charged with theft without physically taking someone’s property. For example, if you signed over the title of someone else’s car without their permission, you could be charged with theft of the car.
Texas law breaks theft cases down into three different types:
- Taking someone’s property without their permission
- Tricking someone into giving you their property; and
- Knowingly receiving stolen property
These three types of cases used to be known, respectively, as “larceny,” “fraud,” and “receipt of stolen property.” Other states still use these terms, but Texas has consolidated all of these crimes under “theft.” So a shoplifter, a con-artist, and a person who resells stolen goods will all be charged with theft, even though their conduct differs dramatically.
Theft can be a misdemeanor or felony depending on the amount stolen, whether the victim is elderly or disabled, and how many prior convictions for theft you have. Click here for more details.
Texas law defines robbery in two ways:
- Intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causing bodily injury to another while in the course of committing theft; or
- Intentionally, knowingly or recklessly threatening another person or placing them in fear of imminent bodily injury or death
Let’s look at the first type, what I’ll call “bodily injury robbery.”
Because Texas law defines “bodily injury” as simply “physical pain,” a theft can easily turn into a robbery. The most common example is a shoplifter who pushes a store employee as they’re running out of the store. The employee falls backwards and feels pain when his back hits the ground. Even if the shoplifter may have taken a small number of items and would have normally been charged with misdemeanor theft, the shoplifter is now going to be charged with felony robbery because he caused the employee pain in the course of committing theft.
You can also be charged with robbery even if you didn’t steal anything or the theft was over with by the time the victim was injured. That’s because Texas law defines “in the course of committing theft” as “conduct that occurs in an attempt to commit, during the commission, or in immediate flight after the attempt or commission of theft.”
For example, if you punched a woman, tried to grab her purse, but then ran away when she wouldn’t let go of it, you’d still be charged with robbery because you injured the woman while attempting to commit a theft. Or, for example, if you grabbed a man’s cell phone off of a restaurant table and you kicked him to get him to stop chasing you, you’d be charged with robbery because you injured him while in immediate flight from a theft.
The second type of robbery, what I’ll call “threat robbery,” is more intuitive. All you have to do is threaten a person or do something that makes them think you’ll hurt or kill them. For example, if go up to somebody and say, “Give me your wallet or I’ll kick your ass,” that would be a robbery because you’ve explicitly threatened the person. Or if you go up to somebody and yell “Give me everything you have, now” and ball up your fists, that would be a robbery because you’ve suggested you’re going to beat them up if they don’t comply. Again, like “bodily injury robbery,” it doesn’t matter if you threaten the person before, during, or after they give you the property, and it doesn’t matter if you ever successfully get the property.
Robbery is a second-degree felony, punishable by 2-20 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
Robbery can turn into “aggravated robbery,” a first-degree felony punishable by 5 years – life in prison and up to a $10,000 fine if the victim is over 65 years old or disabled, you used or exhibited a deadly weapon, or the victim suffered “serious bodily injury.”
Burglary of a Building or Habitation
Burglary is the most complicated of the property crimes. The most serious kind of burglary is burglary of a building or habitation. Texas law divides this crime into three categories:
- Entering, without the owner’s permission, a building (or any portion of a building) or habitation not open to the public with the intent to commit a felony, theft, or assault
- Remaining concealed, without the owner’s permission, in a building or habitation with intent to commit a felony, theft, or assault; and
- Entering, without the owner’s permission, a building or habitation and committing or attempting to commit a felony, theft, or assault
A “habitation” is a place where people can sleep overnight. A house, an apartment, trailer, an RV, and a houseboat would all be habitations. Texas law also defines “habitation” to include things attached to the habitation, even though people might not live there. This means that a house’s garage is considered part of the habitation. So if you take a bicycle from someone’s driveway, it’s probably a misdemeanor theft; but if you walk inside the open garage and take it, it’s felony burglary.
The law defines “entering” as putting any part of your body or any physical object connected with your body into the building or habitation. So if you just put your hand through an open house window or smash it open with a crowbar, you’ve technically entered the house.
Most burglaries are “theft” burglaries. Someone gets caught during or after breaking into a house or a business. Notice that, like theft and robbery, you don’t actually have to successfully anything to commit a burglary. You can kick open the door to a house, hear the alarm, and run away, but you’ll still be charged with burglary because you entered the house with the intent to steal something.
“Assault” burglaries are less common. You most often see this charged in domestic situations when an ex-spouse or ex-boyfriend or girlfriend shows up at their ex’s house angry or drunk and tries to get inside by kicking down the door or breaking the window.
Burglaries involving intending to, committing, or attempting commit another felony are the least common. Someone caught breaking into a building trying to set it on fire is one way you’ll see someone charged with this type of burglary since arson itself is a felony.
If the burglary involves a building, it’s a state jail felony, punishable by 180 days to 2 years in state jail and up to a $10,000 fine.
If the burglary involves a habitation, it’s a second-degree felony, punishable by 2-20 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
If the burglary involves a habitation and intent to commit a felony (other than felony theft), it’s a first-degree felony, punishable by 5 years – life in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
Burglary of a Vehicle and Burglary of a Coin-Operated Machine
Burglary of a vehicle is breaking into a vehicle (such as a car or truck) without the owner’s permission, with the intent to commit a felony or theft.
Burglary of a vehicle a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $4,000. Your third burglary of a vehicle is a state jail felony, punishable by 180 days – 2 years in a state jail and a fine of up to $10,000.
Burglary of a coin-operated machine is, like it sounds like, breaking into a coin-operated machine (such as a vending machine or arcade game) without the owner’s permission with the intent to obtain property or services from the machine.
Burglary of a coin-operated machine is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $4,000.
For more information on Theft, Robbery, and Burglary Charges in Texas, a free initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (713) 936-4521 today.
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