What is organized retail theft?

On Behalf of | Sep 1, 2023 | Firm News

Theft has a very broad definition. It can refer to the act of shoplifting goods, but it can also be used to describe fraud, pickpocketing, smash-and-grab and other similar offenses that involve depriving another person of their property.

Because theft can refer to different offenses with the singular goal of taking from another, Texas has consolidated theft offenses so that courts can prosecute the cases under one law. There are some exceptions to this consolidation, however.

Organized retail theft is one such exception. Unlike shoplifting, organized retail theft typically involves people who consistently and methodically steal merchandise to resell it on the black market or stockpile it for another criminal purpose.

To say Texas takes organized retail theft seriously would be an understatement. During the latest legislative session, state lawmakers announced that for 2024-25, it would invest over $2.5 million toward creating an Organized Retail Theft Prevention Unit. The state also has severe penalties for anyone convicted of the offense.

State law on organized retail theft

According to Texas law, a person commits organized retail theft if they’re engaged in the concealment, storage, trading, reselling or disposal of stolen merchandise. This means that a single person who steals merchandise and attempts to resell it can be charged, even if they acted without accomplices.

The penalties

A person convicted of organized retail theft faces the following penalties based on the value of the items involved in the illegal activity:

  • Stolen merchandise worth less than $100: This is a Class C misdemeanor with a maximum fine of $500.
  • More than $100, less than $750: This is a Class B misdemeanor, leading to fines of as much as $2,000 and up to 180 days in jail.
  • More than $750, less than $2,500: The convicted faces a Class A misdemeanor, with a maximum $4,000 fine and up to a year in jail.
  • More than $2,500, less than $30,000: This counts as a state jail felony, with as much as $10,000 in fines and up to two years in prison.
  • More than $30,000, less than $150,000: The convicted faces a third-degree felony, with a maximum $10,000 fine and up to 10 years in prison.
  • More than $150,000, less than $300,000: This is a second-degree felony, carrying as much as $10,000 in fines and up to 20 years in prison.
  • $300,000 or more: A first-degree felony awaits the convicted, with a maximum $10,000 fine and either life imprisonment or a prison term of up to 99 years.

In addition to these penalties, a person’s offense is upgraded to the next higher category of offense if during their trial it was shown that the following applied:

  • The person organized and supervised others who also participated in organized retail theft.
  • During the offense, the person either caused a fire alarm to activate, deactivated or prevented the activation of a retail theft detector, or used a shielding instrument (like a booster bag) to prevent theft detection.

Texas considers organized retail theft a major offense, and anyone caught participating in a theft ring would face harsher penalties than those convicted of petty theft. Anyone charged with the offense should remember they’re in a precarious legal situation.