In order to understand what theft of services is, one must first understand the general crime of theft. In short, theft crimes involve the unauthorized taking of another person’s property coupled with the intent to permanently deprive the rightful owner of their property. The criminal element of “taking” is further defined as seizing control over the property.
Typically, theft is charged as a misdemeanor crime. This means that the criminal punishments for common forms of theft often carry criminal penalties of small fines of up to $500, imprisonment of less than one year, or a combination of both. However, there are also many forms of theft that can also be charged as a felony. Punishments for individuals charged with felony theft can include large fines of more than $10,000, imprisonment for over a year, or a combination of both.
Theft in Texas is legally defined as a defendant unlawfully appropriating property with the intent to deprive the owner of the possession and control of their property. Texas has many theft crimes that may be punished as either a misdemeanor or felony, with a wide range of criminal penalties. Further, under the Texas Theft Liability Act, a theft victim may also civilly sue a thief to recover civil damages that were caused by the theft. Further, a successful victim of a theft crime may also recover statutory damages, as well as attorney’s fees.
How Is Theft of Service Defined in Texas?
The criminal definition of theft of services in Texas may be found in the Texas Penal Code Section 31.04. The Code states that an individual commits theft of service if, with intent to avoid payment for service that the actor knows is provided only for compensation:
- The actor intentionally or knowingly secures performance of the service by deception, threat, or false token;
- Having control over the disposition of services of another to which the actor is not entitled, the actor intentionally or knowingly diverts the other’s services to the actor’s own benefit or to the benefit of another not entitled to the services;
- Having control of personal property under a written rental agreement, the actor holds the property beyond the expiration of the rental period without the effective consent of the owner of the property, thereby depriving the owner of the property of its use in further rentals;
- The actor intentionally or knowingly secures the performance of the service by agreeing to provide compensation and, after the service is rendered, fails to make full payment after receiving notice demanding payment.
In other words, theft of services occurs when a person obtains services through unlawful means. For Example, by knowingly entering into an agreement for those services with no intent to pay for them or using threats or force to obtain the services.
What Does the Prosecutor Have to Establish to Convict Me of This Charge?
As with all criminal charges brought against you, in order for the prosecutor to convict you of theft of services, they must prove each and every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. This means that the state prosecution must prove that you:
- Knowingly or intentionally obtained performance of services by threat, deception, or by false means;
- Knowingly controlled and/or diverted services to your benefit;
- Had control of another person’s personal property from a rental agreement, and then held the property beyond the rental period and deprived the true owner of the full use of their property;
- Knowingly or intentionally secured a service by agreeing to pay, then failed to pay the service provider after the service was rendered.
Imagine the state prosecutor is unable to prove that you knowingly committed the criminal action with the intent to avoid payment for the service. In that case, any charges brought against you must be dismissed or dropped.
What Does It Mean to “Avoid Payment” in Texas?
In Texas, Avoiding payment applies and is presumed when the defendant:
- Leaves without paying for services or expressly refusing to pay for any service;
- Fails to return rental property:
- Within five days after receiving notice demanding a return, if the property is valued at less than $2,500;
- Within three days after receiving notice demanding a return, if the property is valued at $2,500 or more but less than $10,000;
- Within two days after receiving notice demanding a return if the property is valued at $10,000 or more;
- Returns property obtained under a rental agreement after the agreement expired and fails to pay any rental charge within 10 days of receiving a demand payment notice; or
- Fails to make a payment within 10 days of receiving a notice to pay demand notice.
It is important to note that under Texas law, there is an affirmative legal defense when a person accused of theft secures the performance of the services by giving a post-dated check or similar money order to the person performing the services and the service provider has presented the check for payment before the date on the check.
Are There Defenses I Can Use to Fight This Theft Charge?
As mentioned above, the state prosecution has the burden of proving the crime of theft of services beyond a reasonable doubt. This means anything that can attack the prosecution’s ability to prove an element of the crime will be considered a potential legal defense. As such, the following is a list of potential legal defenses that can be used to fight a theft charge:
- Entitlement to the services that were provided;
- Lack of intent to steal the services that were provided;
- Lack of evidence to prove that the criminal action occurred.
What’s the Punishment for Theft of Service?
As mentioned above, theft is typically charged as a misdemeanor crime, which carries criminal penalties of small fines of up to $500, imprisonment of less than one year, or a combination of both. However, some theft crimes may also be charged as a felony crime, which carries criminal penalties of large fines for more than $10,000, imprisonment for over a year, or a combination of both.
In Texas, for the crime of theft of services, the criminal penalties associated with the crime will be dependent on the value of the services that were stolen. The criminal penalties are as follows:
- A Class C misdemeanor if the value of the service stolen is less than $100;
- A Class B misdemeanor if the value of the service stolen is $100 or more but less than $750;
- A Class A misdemeanor if the value of the service stolen is $750 or more but less than $2,500;
- A state jail felony if the value of the service stolen is $2,500 or more but less than $30,000;
- A felony of the third degree if the value of the service stolen is $30,000 or more but less than $150,000;
- A felony of the second degree if the value of the service stolen is $150,000 or more but less than $300,000; or
- A felony of the first degree if the value of the service stolen is $300,000 or more.
Can a Lawyer Help Me With My Theft Charge?
As can be seen, the penalties for theft of services may be severe. Therefore, if you have been accused of theft of services, you should consult with an experienced and local Texas criminal lawyer as soon as possible.
An experienced Texas criminal attorney will be able to assist you in raising any applicable legal defense in your case. An attorney can also represent you throughout the criminal legal process and at any necessary in person hearings.