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Grand Theft Auto: Not Just a Video Game

Car Theft Laws in Texas

In Texas, taking something that belongs to another can be prosecuted as criminal theft. This applies to instances involving the unlawful appropriation of any type of property, including motor vehicles. However, stealing a car can lead to more serious charges because motor vehicles are generally very valuable.

The circumstances under which a car is stolen can lead to additional charges as well. Stealing a car by force, selling a stolen car or engaging in carjacking can all lead to enhanced charges on top of a theft charge. Without a strong legal defense, these kinds of charges can lead to very serious consequences.

Defining Car Theft

In most cases, car theft involves the act of taking a car that belongs to another person. However, Texas law classifies all acts of stealing as cases of theft and the severity of the crime is determined by the value of the stolen property. Because cars are relatively expense, stealing a car is a serious crime.

Most people know that it is illegal to break into a car, hotwire it and drive away. However, this isn’t the only way that someone can be charged with car theft in Texas. In Texas Penal Code Section 31.03, theft is defined as:

  • The appropriation of property without the owner’s effective consent

This refers to many cases of car theft that involve a person who uses some means to gain entry into another person’s car and then drive away. However, theft is also defined as:

  • A person who knowingly purchases or takes stolen property
  • A person who willingly takes property that was described as stolen by a law enforcement agency or officer

This means that a person who purchases a car that he or she knows is stolen can be charged with theft in the same way as the person who actually stole the car. Also, a person who agrees to purchase a car that has been described as stolen by an undercover police officer in a sting operation can be charged with theft as if the car was actually stolen property.

Legal Penalties

A person who is convicted of stealing a car in Texas can face a punishment that is based on the value of the property that they stole. Because most motor vehicles are worth thousands of dollars, this can lead to a very serious sentence.

In most cases a person who steals a car may face a potential state jail felony conviction. If a person is convicted of stealing a car that is worth more than $1500 but less than $20,000, they can face:

  • 180 days or up to two years in a state jail facility
  • A fine of up to $10,000

However, if a person steals a very valuable car, they can face stiffer penalties. A person who steals a vehicle that is worth more than $20,000 but less than $100,000, they could be convicted of a third degree felony. This means that they could face:

  • Up to 10 years in Texas state prison
  • A fine of up to $10,000

Additional charges can be filed if the person stole a vehicle by using force or threat of violence, if they used a deadly weapon during the crime or if the victim was elderly or disabled.

An attorney may be able to help a defendant fight car theft charges in court. For example, a lawyer might be able to use evidence and witness testimony to arrange a plea bargain with the court. If this succeeds, the defendant could avoid incarceration and be given probation rather than lengthy jail time.


Have you been charged with grand theft auto? Call Matthew D. Sharp, a tough, smart Houston lawyer. He can protect your rights and help you navigate the law. Contact his office today at (713) 868-6100.

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