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How is the Value of an Item Determined for a Theft Charge?

Picture this scenario for a moment. You’re in Walmart late at night during the busy holiday season when you notice that a crate of brand new 60-inch LED Panasonic Televisions have been left unattended near the fire exit at the back of the store. All of a sudden, your mind starts to race, and you picture how well one of the televisions would look hanging on your wall while you play Grand Theft Auto 5. Wrapped up in the heat of the moment, you quickly grab one of the televisions and hightail it out the back exit. Now, let’s assume that Walmart sells this particular television for $1,750. If you were to get caught “borrowing” this particular television, you would end up getting charged with a State Jail Felony because the value of the television falls in between $1,500 and $20,000.

For the purpose of this example, let’s assume that you are caught “borrowing” the television, and you are subsequently arrested and charged with a State Jail Felony. While waiting in jail for your theft charge to be filed, you happen to stumble across another inmate who just so happened to steal the exact same brand and model of television. However, unlike you, your new found friend simply stole the television from his neighbor’s apartment. Furthermore, he is only being charged with a Class A Misdemeanor instead of a State Jail Felony. What’s the deal here?

If You are Charged with Theft, the Value of the Stolen Item is Determined by the Fair Market Value of the Item

Theft is a unique criminal offense in Texas because, even though the act of unlawfully appropriating an item or object is essentially the same in every case, you can be charged with anything from a Class C Misdemeanor all the way up to a 1st Degree Felony depending upon the value of the item or object that you steal. Section 31.08 of the Texas Penal Code states that the value of the item that is stolen is “the fair market value of the property or service at the time and place of the offense or, if the fair marker value of the property cannot be ascertained, the cost of replacing the property within a reasonable time after the theft.” And, The Supreme Court of the United States declared in United States v. Cartwright that “the fair market value is the price at which the property would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller, neither being under any compulsion to buy or to sell and both having reasonable knowledge of relevant facts.”

How does Fair Market Value Translate in Real Life?

While the Texas Penal Code specifically states that the value of a stolen item shall be determined by assessing the fair market value of the item, in real life, the District Attorney almost always estimates the value of the stolen item by referencing and using the consumer selling price. I’ve seen it time and time again.

Take the most recent release of the Apple iPad Air for example. Let’s say that you’re at a local Starbucks when you swipe a 32GB iPad Air from one of their foolish customers who left it sitting on the table while using the bathroom. Now, the current retail price of the 32GB iPad Air is $599. But the selling price of a used 32GB iPad Air would certainly be less than $599. Right? In fact, it is very, very likely that its selling price, or fair market value, would be significantly less than $500. This is a critical fact to note because, if the iPad’s value is $500 or above, stealing it would be a Class A Misdemeanor. But, if its value is less than $500, it would be classified as only a Class B Misdemeanor.

What Should You do if You are Charged with Theft in Collin County, Texas?

If you are arrested and charged with theft in Collin County, Texas, you should immediately hire an experienced criminal defense attorney who deals with these types of charges day in and day out. As mentioned above, 9 times out of 10, the prosecutor will automatically assess the value of the stolen item at the highest amount possible and, without the benefit of aggressive representation, he or she will simply present you with a “take it or leave it” plea offer that almost always entails jail time and/or a permanent criminal conviction. So, if you have been charged with theft in Collin County, Texas, please feel comfortable to contact me at (972) 372-4054 to discuss the facts of your case and see how I can help you.