Most everyone has seen photos and videos of mobs ransacking and stealing large amounts of merchandise from stores of all types and sizes. Whether it’s an upscale designer boutique, a jewelry store or a large home improvement retailer, these groups can and do make off with thousands of dollars in merchandise. Much of that is often sold or fenced.
Many states are enacting or amending laws to address this “organized retail theft” and to strengthen the potential criminal penalties for those convicted. Texas already has an organized retail theft law on the books. However, just this fall, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar appointed ten people to the Statewide Task Force to Combat Organized Retail Theft to study and “provide recommendations to address this problem.”
While that might not mean anything to the average person, it shows that the state is taking this problem seriously. Those arrested for this crime need to understand the law and their rights. Let’s take a brief look at it.
How does the law define this offense and penalize it?
Under Texas law, organized retail theft occurs when “a person intentionally conducts, promotes, or facilitates” the theft or merchandise or the disposal of stolen merchandise. Often, the people behind the thefts aren’t present when they’re carried out, but you can bet that they’re profiting from the stolen loot.
As with most theft crimes, the seriousness of the specific charge depends on the value of the goods. If it’s over $750, you can face a felony charge. Stolen merchandise of $2,500 can result in a state jail felony. If it’s worth $300,000 or above, that’s a first-degree felony.
There can be even more serious criminal consequences
A person faces more serious charges if they were a manager or financer of the theft or if they did anything to deactivate or otherwise tamper with a fire exit alarm or theft detection system (including blocking a camera). Of course, there can and often are separate charges for damage to property or any violence that occurs.
While the offense is known as “organized” retail theft, the actual events are sometimes less than organized. It’s possible for people to find themselves in the middle of something far more serious than they believed it was. It’s also possible to purchase stolen merchandise without realizing it. If you’re facing organized retail theft charges, it’s crucial to take them seriously and to get legal guidance to protect your rights.