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Fraud Destroy Removal Concealment of Writing Meaning and Why Switching Price Tags Is Not a Good Idea

When I was still somewhat new at practicing criminal law, I remember a theft case that I handled for a client that still stands out to me to this day. The client, who had no criminal record, frantically called me up one afternoon because he had just been charged with theft of property. Evidently, he had been shopping at a supermarket for a few items. While he was shopping, for whatever reason, he took an item worth about $60 and switched it’s price tag with another item priced at $30. Then, after completing his shopping, he attempted to go through the self-checkout lane when the assets protection officer wised up to what was going on and called the police. Shortly thereafter, the police arrived on scene and placed my client under arrest for theft, and the District Attorney eventually ended up filing the charge as a Class B Misdemeanor, alleging that the value of the stolen item was $60.

Now, theft is generally charged as a Class B Misdemeanor whenever the value of the stolen property is between $50 and $500. But, when the value of the stolen property is less than $50, theft is generally charged as only a Class C Misdemeanor. Therefore, in this particular case, my initial goal was to argue that, because my client actually paid $30 for the $60 item, the Class B Misdemeanor should be dropped down to a Class C Misdemeanor since the unaccounted value of the item only amounted to $30. After arguing this point, the District Attorney’s office informed me that, because they had made an error when originally charging my client, instead of lowering the charge to a Class C Misdemeanor, they were actually going to try and refile the charge as fraudulent destruction and raise it to a Class A Misdemeanor!

Fraud Destroy Removal Concealment Writing Meaning, or Fraudulent Destruction

In the case above, while one might generally regard these actions to constitute theft, the Texas Penal Code actually defines this type of behavior as fraudulent destruction, removal, or concealment of a writing. Under Texas law, a person commits fraudulent destruction of a writing if, with intent to defraud or harm another, he or she destroys, removes, conceals, alters, substitutes, or otherwise impairs the verity, legibility, or availability of a writing, other than a governmental record. And, for purposes of the statute, a writing includes, money, coins, stamps, credit cards, universal product codes, price tags, and other markings on goods. Additionally, this crime is usually charged as a Class A Misdemeanor.

Therefore, often times, people think that simply switching price tags to try and offset the cost of an item and make it more affordable isn’t as bad as out-and-out stealing the item. But, as this example illustrates, many times it is! In the case that I described above, I was able to convince the District Attorney not to raise my client’s charge to a Class A Misdemeanor for fraud. And, while I wasn’t able to get the charge reduced to a Class C Misdemeanor, I was ultimately successful in convincing the District Attorney to agree to dismiss the charge which would ultimately keep a final conviction from appearing on my client’s permanent criminal record. So, at the end of the day, everything worked out just fine. But, it was definitely a case that opened my eyes and demonstrated the fact that the District Attorney’s office can sometimes get pretty creative and crafty with the way that they choose to charge and prosecute certain criminal offenses.