How to Get a Petty Theft Misdemeanor Expungement

Petty theft, which refers to the theft of property worth less than $100, is a Class C misdemeanor in Texas. In some situations, you may be able to have petty theft arrests and charges expunged from your record.

What qualifies as petty theft?

The term “Petty Theft” can be used to describe any low-value theft of property. Under Texas Penal Code § 31.03, the crime of theft is defined as follows:

“(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;  

The most common type of theft is taking property without the owner’s permission and not intending to give it back. However, Texas’s theft statute also covers receiving stolen property.  

The lowest theft charge in Texas, sometimes called petty theft, is a Class C misdemeanor. If you don’t have any prior convictions and the stolen property’s value is under $100, you can only be charged with a Class C misdemeanor. A Class C misdemeanor conviction for petty theft won’t land you in jail; the maximum penalty is a $500 fine. 

Can petty theft be dismissed?

Some petty theft charges can be dismissed through the court’s pretrial diversion or deferred adjudication programs.  

Pretrial Diversion

To participate in pretrial diversion, the District Attorney’s office has to give you permission to be admitted into the program. If the DA allows you to participate, you will be required to sign a contract, which includes a zero-tolerance policy for crime. You will also need to meet specific requirements for the time period you are on the program.  Usually you will have to take an anti-theft class.  Sometimes the program will require restitution and/or community service. If you stick to the contract and successfully complete the pretrial diversion program the charges will be dismissed.  Once they are dismissed you can immediately file a petition for expunction.  

Deferred Adjudication

With deferred adjudication you will plead guilty to the theft charge against you, but a conviction will not be entered. Instead, the judge will defer a finding of guilt and place you on probation.  During this probationary period you will have to complete an anti-theft class and may have to complete community service or drug and alcohol testing and evaluation. If you successfully finish your probation, no conviction will be entered. You will then be able to submit a petition for non-disclosure, which will prevent anyone but the police and the government from seeing a record of the charge.  

It is important for you to know that a non-disclosure is not an expunction.  A non-disclosure essentially seals the record.  An expunction erases the record as if the arrest never occurred.  You are not eligible for an expectation after taking a deferred adjudication plea.

Can I get a petty theft misdemeanor expungement?

Under Texas law, you cannot expunge convictions from your record. However, you may be able to receive an expungement of petty theft charges and arrests in the following situations:

  • You were charged and acquitted.
  • You were convicted but later determined to be actually innocent.
  • You were convicted but later pardoned.
  • You were formally charged, but the case against you was dismissed, and the statute of limitations has expired. 
  • You were arrested but not formally charged, and you satisfy the 180 days waiting period for the expungement of Class C misdemeanor arrests.

If you successfully complete pretrial diversion and get your charges dismissed, you can file for an expungement to remove the petty theft charge from your record altogether.

Can I get petty theft reduced to an infraction?

In Texas, you cannot get petty theft reduced to an infraction. The lowest level theft charge is a Class C misdemeanor.

An infraction is the least serious type of crime, such as traffic and parking violations or jaywalking offenses. Infractions are punishable by fines or community service but not jail time. You typically will not be arrested for an infraction. Instead, you’ll likely receive a ticket or citation.   

While some states allow low-level offenders to reduce first-time petty theft charges to an infraction, Texas law does not permit this. However, pretrial diversion and deferred adjudication programs can help avoid a conviction for petty theft altogether. 

What is the statute of limitations on petty theft?

In Texas, the statute of limitations on all simple theft offenses, including petty theft, is five years. However, for thefts committed by fiduciaries or public servants, the statute of limitations is ten years.

A statute of limitations is an established time limit for the government to file charges against you. If charges are not brought against you before the statute of limitations expires, the government forfeits its right to prosecute you. 

The statute of limitations period starts when the crime is committed and runs continuously, with a few exceptions. The deadline can be extended under the following circumstances:

  • During the time you are out of the state.
  • During the pendency of an indictment.

Do I need a petty theft lawyer near me?

If you’ve been charged with petty theft, you should contact a petty theft lawyer as soon as possible. Even though a petty theft conviction cannot land you in jail, a criminal record can seriously limit your employment opportunities. An experienced petty theft lawyer can help you fight the charges against you or enter the deferred adjudication or pretrial diversion programs in your county.

It’s typically wise to retain an attorney who regularly defends clients in the same court you have been charged, even if you are charged outside of the county where you live. While choosing a petty theft lawyer near you may seem more convenient, it’s crucial to have legal representation who understands the practices of the court you are charged in. This is particularly essential with theft charges, as pretrial diversion and deferred adjudication programs are generally run on the county level. 

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