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Steal Property and Get Life Behind Bars:  Life Sentences for Theft in Texas

Here in Texas, sentencing for some crimes includes the death penalty – and we use it.  The first execution of 2018 occurred here in Texas as Anthony Shore, “The Tourniquet Killer,” was given a lethal injection at the Huntsville Death Chamber as punishment for the killings of five women over in Houston during the 1990s.  We’ve had almost 550 executions since 1976 (when the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty for the United States).

Life Imprisonment for Homicides In Lieu of Death

There are those who argue against the death penalty and urge that in lieu of execution, these defendants should face the ultimate sentence of life imprisonment for their crimes.  In fact, many states without capital punishment support life imprisonment as the appropriate maximum sentence to be given in cases like the Shore homicides.   Also, there are instances where Texas death penalty defense arguments succeed in swaying a jury against a death sentence to the alternative of life behind bars in capital cases.

Imprisoned for the rest of your days and taking away your freedom, forever, seems like the hardest and most severe sentence that the government can give, absent execution, right?  Sure.  So, when a prosecutor seeks life imprisonment in a murder case or spree killing or active shooter scenario, it makes sense to most people (including jurors).

But these are cases where blood has been shed, lives have been taken, innocents have died.  What about when no one is hurt or even fearful of being harmed, and just property is destroyed or taken?

Property Crimes and Life Imprisonment in Texas

Well, in the State of Texas, you can be sentenced to life behind bars based solely on property crimes.  That’s right.  Under the Texas Penal Code, it’s possible to face life imprisonment for taking something valuable (grand theft) as well as destroying a piece of property that is expensive (criminal mischief).

Theft: Taking Property

Under Texas Penal Code 31.03(5), “theft” constitutes a felony of the first degree if the value of the property stolen is $300,000 or more.   Theft involves:

(a)  A person commits an offense if he unlawfully appropriates property with intent to deprive the owner of property.

(b)  Appropriation of property is unlawful if:

(1)  It is without the owner’s effective consent;

(2)  The property is stolen and the actor appropriates the property knowing it was stolen by another; or

(3)  Property in the custody of any law enforcement agency was explicitly represented by any law enforcement agent to the actor as being stolen and the actor appropriates the property believing it was stolen by another.

Criminal Mischief: Destroying Property

Under Texas Penal Code 28.03, “criminal mischief” constitutes a felony of the first degree if the amount of pecuniary loss is $300,000 or more.  Criminal mischief involves:

(1) Intentionally or knowingly damages or destroys the tangible property of the owner;

(2) Intentionally or knowingly tampers with the tangible property of the owner and causes pecuniary loss or substantial inconvenience to the owner or a third person; or

(3) Intentionally or knowingly makes markings, including inscriptions, slogans, drawings, or paintings, on the tangible property of the owner.

Felony of the First Degree

The key in these property crimes is the legislative decision that property that is taken or destroyed involving a value of $300,000.00 or more deserves to be considered a “felony of the first degree.”

Felonies of the first degree come with a range of possible sentences ranging from 5 to 99 years in prison and / or a fine of up to $10,000. Texas Penal Code 12.32.  This is considered the most serious felony crime in Texas criminal law absent “capital felonies,” where the death penalty is sought.

So, if you are convicted of stealing something valued at $300,000 or more, or if you are found guilty of destroying property valued at $300,000 or more, then you can be sentenced to 99 years in prison under the Texas Property Code.

Even if no one got hurt.  Even if no one was scared you might hurt them in any way.

Dallasite Faces Life for Alleged Fine Art Destruction during Bad Date

Think this doesn’t happen?  Well, it does.  Right now, Dallasite Lindy Lou Layman faces first degree felony charges and a maximum sentence of 99 years behind bars for the alleged destruction of fine art owned by a Houston lawyer.

She’s been charged with criminal mischief after being arrested for the destruction of several paintings (two by Andy Warhol) and some sculpture.  Allegedly, this was a first date that went bad, very bad.

Since the value of the artwork involved in the case has a value well in excess of the statutory $300,000.00 minimum, the 23-year-old has been charged with a first degree felony.  And any first degree felony brings with it a possible maximum sentence of 99 years in a Texas facility.

What if She Had Been on a Date with a Poor Guy

That’s a serious charge for anyone to face, right?  But consider these things, too: no one was injured, and if this had been art on the walls of a college student then she might be facing a much lower charge.  Maybe even a misdemeanor.

That’s because the property crimes are tied to the value of the stolen or destroyed items.  These laws work to protect the rich much more than the not-so-rich, since the harshest penalties jive with the most expensive items involved in the crime.

It’s an argument that can be made in negotiations, of course.  There’s also arguments to be made on the true value of the items, among other things.

However, Texans need to understand that in the Lone Star State, we don’t just execute people for capital crimes.  Our state will incarcerate someone for the rest of their lives solely on a property charge.


For more information, check out our web resources, read Michael Lowe’s Case Results, and read his in-depth article,” Pre-Arrest Criminal Investigations.”




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