From the report of a crime to the final appeal, find out what you can expect from the process of a theft case.
Reporting of the Theft
Theft is often reported by the victim, or what is commonly called the “complaining witness” or “complainant.” The complaining witness can be an individual or a business, depending on the circumstances in which the theft occurred.
Theft from a person may be reported simply by that individual calling the police to their home or business or by them going to the police station to file a report.
Investigation by Police
Usually, the police officer will take down a report and then do some follow-up investigation if they have questions about the alleged crime. The police may attempt to call the person who is being accused of the theft.
If you are being accused of a crime and the police try to get a statement from you about the situation, you should not speak with them directly. You should tell the officers you have an attorney and call me, Houston theft attorney Lisa Shapiro Strauss.
In my experience, the officers are looking for the accused to say something to incriminate themselves or make the case stronger for the prosecution. The police will tell you that it may help your case to speak with them, but I have rarely ever seen this actually be the case!
If the police officers feel there is enough evidence for an arrest, they may issue a warrant for the arrest of the person accused. Sometimes, the accused has no idea they are under investigation. I frequently tell clients who are under investigation to continue checking with bail bondsmen to see if they have a warrant issued in their name.
Once the case has been filed, the police will either arrest the accused or file a warrant for their arrest. If arrested, the person will go down to the county jail and hopefully have a bail bond set. Sometimes, there may be a delay in setting bail if there are issues of other pending cases or issues with the accused.
A person who has a warrant filed in these cases can either turn themselves in or wait to be picked up by the police. The best way to handle this is what is called a “non-arrest bond” through a local bail bondsman.
The accused sets this up through the bondsman, who then walks them through the process of posting a bond in the case without having to be physically arrested and taken into custody.
The accused will have an arraignment date set if they post a bond; usually, the date is set for a couple of days after their arrest. If they are in custody and have not bonded out, they should be brought over to the court within a few days as well.
At arraignment, the accused will have a chance to let the judge know whether they plan to hire their own attorney or ask for a court appointed attorney.
Also, as a result of the Michael Morton Act, in Texas, the attorney for the accused should be able to get a copy of the offense report and request any other discovery they see may be available.
Typically, these cases may be reset for several court dates while the attorneys sort through the evidence and exchange information they uncover. I like to request anything that I may see in the report, such as videos or statements, as early as possible.
Once all the evidence has been exchanged, the Assistant District Attorney will usually make an offer to the Defense Attorney. The nature of the offer will depend on the charge, the evidence, and the accused person’s criminal history. The ADA will also take into account whether the complaining witness wants to continue prosecuting the case and if there is restitution involved.
The defendant who accepts jail time cannot be ordered to pay restitution to the complaining witness. This motivates some of the offers for probation when there are large amounts of restitution at hand.
Additionally, the defendant should be aware that a conviction for theft is what is considered a “crime of moral turpitude” under Texas statutes. This means that a conviction will label them as untrustworthy for the rest of their lives.
If a person is offered and successfully completes a deferred adjudication probation program, then there is no conviction in the case. This allows the person to eventually file for a Petition for Non-Disclosure, if they so choose.
I always take time at this stage to sit down and discuss with my clients all of the options, including whether or not to seek a jury trial or work out a plea bargain. Every case and every defendant is unique, and there is no correct answer for every single case.
If we decide that we want to set this case for trial, then we will ask the judge for a trial date and confirm we have received all of our discovery. Once a case is set for trial, the offer of any kind of deferred adjudication is usually taken off the table. By law, if the accused is convicted by a jury, they cannot get deferred probation.
It is every accused person’s right to a trial by a jury – however, not every case may be good for trial. Trust an experienced attorney to tell you the positives and negatives about your case when evaluating it for trial.
If a case is plead during the court settings, the accused loses most rights of appeal by signing the paperwork during the plea. If a case goes to trial and the defendant loses, there are lots of ways to appeal the case.
However, many attorneys do not make the proper objections at trial and do not properly preserve error for potential appeal. That is why it is so important that a defendant be represented by a trial attorney with experience and a history of success.
Answers to Your Questions About Theft Charges
Prior convictions can affect the punishment a defendant will receive for their current theft charges in Texas if they are found guilty. Jail time and/or fines may be increased due to previous convictions. In addition, if you have a felony or misdemeanor conviction in Texas, it may be it difficult to get a loan, a job or a place to live.
Read more about how prior convictions affect Houston theft cases.
There are a few reasons that a theft case might be dismissed in Harris County. Some of the most common reasons include:
– Lack of probable cause
– An illegal search by the police
– Insufficient or lost evidence
A pretrial diversion is another possible means of getting a theft case dismissed.
Read more about getting a theft case dismissed in Houston.
The increasing popularity of online shopping has led to an increase in package theft, also commonly known as “porch piracy” — the taking of someone else’s delivered packages. The Texas state legislature has taken steps to discourage the crime of package theft, amending Section 1, Chapter 31 of the Texas Penal Code by adding section 31.20 to increase potential criminal charges depending on the number of items stolen.
For example, stealing up to 10 packages or pieces of mail is a state jail felony that carries the potential of a fine up to $10,000 and between 180 days and two years of jail time. Stealing 50 or more pieces of mail could result in a second-degree felony charge that can carry a fine of up to $10,000 and between 2 and 20 years of jail time.
Read more about avoiding package theft charges in Texas.
Get Help from a Houston Theft Attorney
If you’ve been accused of a theft crime in Houston or a surrounding area, contact criminal defense attorney Lisa Shapiro Strauss today for assistance.
Lisa has successfully defended clients across the Houston area who have been charged with theft and other crimes. In many instances, Lisa’s representation has resulted in lesser charges or even dismissal of charges for her clients. Call (713) 429-7310 today to schedule a free consultation.