In recent years, retail thefts have gone far beyond what people generally think of as “shoplifting.” In some cases, they’ve become more brazen and violent. Some have involved “flash mobs” of people descending on a store or an area. Others are more carefully planned and organized.

State lawmakers across the country have enacted laws to deal with what’s become known as “organized retail crime” or “organized retail theft” that can carry serious consequences for those involved at any level. Typically, the more the merchandise is worth, the harsher the consequences are.

Texas law defines organized retail theft as an offense where “a person intentionally conducts, promotes, or facilitates an activity in which the person receives, possesses, conceals, stores, barters, sells, or disposes of stolen retail merchandise, or merchandise explicitly represented to the person as being stolen retail merchandise.” That means if you’re involved at any point in the theft, from planning it to possibly tossing out stolen goods, you could find yourself charged under this law.

Charges include misdemeanors and felonies

The specific offenses can range from Class C misdemeanors (if the merchandise is valued at under $100) up to a Class A misdemeanor if it’s worth at least $750. Above that, a person can be charged with a felony. These range from a state jail felony for $2,500 to a first-degree felony if the merchandise is worth $300,000 or more.

The charge is automatically increased by one level in any of the following cases:

  • A person “organized, supervised, financed, or managed” the activity.
  • A person involved in the theft set off or deactivated a fire exit alarm.
  • A person either deactivated or did something to block a theft detection device, such as a camera.

Lawmakers aren’t finished dealing with organized retail theft. A new law takes effect later this year that creates a task force including retailers and law enforcement. They’re tasked with, among other things, considering further measures to combat it and are authorized to “share information relating to an active criminal investigation…regardless of whether the information would otherwise be confidential.”

If you find yourself facing a charge under this law, it’s crucial to take it seriously, even if it may seem relatively minor. Whenever you’re dealing with an alleged offense that involves multiple people, you never know what the others will say to protect themselves. It’s smart to have legal guidance to protect your rights.