Grand theft auto charges in Houston carry serious penalties if convicted. If you’ve been charged with this offense, it’s important to understand what the law says, what the possible consequences are, and what you can do about it.
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Grand Theft Auto Laws
There is not a specific law addressing grand theft auto in Texas, so these crimes may be prosecuted under one of several different state laws.
Most commonly, the unauthorized use of someone else’s vehicle will be prosecuted under Texas’ general theft law.
Under Texas Penal Code § 31.03, a person can be charged with theft if they unlawfully take another person’s vehicle with the intention of depriving that person of their rightful property. Taking another vehicle is considered unlawful if:
- The vehicle owner did not consent to its use.
- The accused took a vehicle despite knowing it was stolen.
- The accused took a vehicle from law enforcement despite knowing it was stolen property.
Another statute that grand theft auto might be prosecuted under is Texas Penal Code § 31.07. This law deals with the unauthorized use of property. Under this statute, if an individual intentionally and knowingly uses another person’s vehicle without their permission but with the intention of returning it, then the accused may be charged with unauthorized use of the vehicle. Taking a vehicle with the intention of returning it is sometimes called “joyriding,” and despite the intent to return the property, it is still illegal.
Penalties for Grand Theft Auto Charges in Houston
The penalties for grand theft auto in Houston depend on several factors:
- The value of the vehicle.
- The accused’s past criminal history.
- If a weapon was used.
- If anyone was hurt.
- The law the accused is being prosecuted under.
On the low end, if a vehicle valued at $500 or less is stolen and the crime is charged under general theft laws, the offender could face a Class B misdemeanor charge, which carries penalties of up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $2,000. Stealing a vehicle valued at $20,000 or more could result in a 3rd degree felony charge, which carries penalties of up to 10 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.
An individual charged with “joyriding” under the unauthorized use statute may face a state jail felony, which carries penalties of up to 180 days in jail and up to $10,000 in fines.
Frequently Asked Questions About Theft in Houston
Within a few days of your arrest, there should be an arraignment, which is when you make your initial appearance in court to officially hear the charges against you, and decide how you want to plead in the case. You may also set up your pretrial hearings, which is when the prosecuting attorney will likely make an offer to the defense based on the charge, the evidence, and your criminal history.
If the prosecutor’s offer is not accepted, the trial will be the next major step. Once the trial date has been set, any previous offers will no longer be available.
If the case is lost by the defense, an appeal is when you can challenge the decision of the judge or jury.
There a a few ways to have a theft case dismissed in Houston, including:
• Lack of Probable Cause
• Illegal Search
• Insufficient Evidence
• Pretrial Diversion
When there is a theft, it is common for experts to use powders and chemicals to reveal any hidden fingerprints that may have been left at the scene of a crime. And while it is true that no two people have the same fingerprints, there are reasons to doubt the reliability of prints found at a crime scene. Some reasons include:
• Disagreement on Matching Prints. Some experts recommend a 12-point match, while others look for 20 common points to confirm a fingerprint match.
• Computer Enhancement. Partial prints are re-built with computer and laser technology. This enhancement can be questioned for accuracy and bias.
• The Age of the Prints. The age of fingerprints is almost impossible to determine, so prints can’t definitively place a person at the crime scene during the alleged theft.
Over the last decade, many cases of poor fingerprint evidence have caused a loss of faith in the reliability of using prints for proving guilt.
What To Do If You’re Charged With Grand Theft Auto in Houston
A conviction for car theft can result in jail time, fines, a permanent criminal record, the inability to get certain types of jobs or even be accepted into some types of higher education, it’s important to remember that a criminal charge is not a conviction – yet.
If you are facing grand theft auto charges in Houston, the first and most important step to take is getting an attorney. Lisa Shapiro Strauss is Houston criminal defense lawyer and former prosecutor who uses her experience to give her clients the best chance possible at fighting criminal charges. Call 713-449-9922 today for a free consultation.