According to the Texas Attorney General, more than 25,000 Texans claim to be the victims of identity theft each year. This is a fast-growing theft-related crime, one that is punished as a felony in the state of Texas. If you have been charged with stealing someone’s identity, you may not know what to do next. You may also be worried about paying tens of thousands of dollars in fines and spending years in state prison.
With the stress associated with being labeled as a criminal, it may be hard to focus on creating a legal strategy. Houston identity theft lawyer Ned Barnett understands how difficult these situations can be. He will listen to your side of the story and keep your best interests in mind.
What is Identity Theft?
The crime of identity theft involves obtaining another person’s information in order to harm or defraud them. More specifically, this crime may be committed for the purpose of obtaining money, or something else of value with certain identifying information, such as a social security number or a driver’s license. Section 32.51 of the Texas Penal Code states that identity theft is not limited to those who are living; it is highly illegal to use the information of a deceased individual or a stillborn fetus for personal gain. Texas law also protects the information of children who are under the age of 18.
If you are being accused of identity theft, the prosecution must prove that you had the intent to harm or defraud another person. In some cases, this may be shown through goods or funds that were obtained with another person’s identifying information. However, intent can also be proven based on the number of people who had their information stolen. In Texas, a person has the intent to do harm when they steal the identifying information of three or more individuals, living or dead.
In many cases, the identifying information used is not always as high profile as a social security number. Instead, it may be what is referred to as telecommunication identifying information, or information that can be used to access a person’s private account. If you were to steal a person’s bank account username and password, for example, you could directly access funds and other resources. This type of information may be used on its own or in conjunction with an electronic device.
Other types of identifying information that can be used for identity theft include, but are not limited to:
- Retina scans
- Voice codes
- Date of Birth
- Government Issued Identification Numbers
Penalties for Identity Theft
In Texas, identity theft is always treated as a felony. However, the type of felony and the severity of the penalties assigned depend on the number of items that were obtained, used, or possessed. In other words, penalties increase depending on how many pieces of identifying information were used.
The criminal consequences for identity theft include, but are not limited to:
- Less than Five Items (State Jail Felony): A fine of up to $10,000 and up to 180 days in jail
- Between Five and Nine Items (Third Degree Felony): A fine of up to $10,000 and between two and 10 years in state prison
- Between 10 and 49 Items (Second Degree Felony): A fine of up to $10,000 and between two and 20 years in state prison
- 50 or More Items (First Degree Felony): A fine of up to $10,000 and between five and 99 years or life in state prison
If you are convicted of identity theft, you may find that your worries do not disappear once you are released from prison. If you plan on going back to school, for example, it might be difficult to gain acceptance. Many colleges and universities do thorough research before admitting individuals, and they may uncover your criminal record. Finding a job may also be a challenge. While you may have had no problem gaining employment before your conviction, you may face a harsh reality once you regain your freedom. Most employers do not trust those who have been found guilty of stealing information.
Mounting a Defense
The best way to avoid the penalties of identity theft is to avoid a conviction altogether. With the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney, you may be able to get your charges thrown out. One of the most successful strategies in identity theft cases involves proving that you did not intend to defraud or cause harm. Perhaps you grabbed another person’s ATM card by mistake, or maybe your friend asked you to use their debit card to make a withdrawal at the bank.
It might also be the case that you were falsely accused. If for example, you received your neighbor’s mail by mistake and proceeded to open it, your actions may be perceived as an identity theft attempt. Regardless of the circumstances surrounding your case, you need the help of a skilled defense lawyer. Their real-world experience will give you the best chance of securing your freedom.
Contact the Law Offices of Ned Barnett
With over 20 years of experience in helping people protect their rights from unfair accusations, Houston criminal defense attorney Ned Barnett is passionate about ensuring that the courts do not overstep their bounds. With his help, you can develop a defense strategy and obtain the best possible resolution.
Call (713) 222-6767 to see how The Law Offices of Ned Barnett can help you regain your freedom and reputation, so you can move on with your life.