Steal a Penny, Get a Felony Charge

Have a penny. Give a penny. Take a penny, go to jail.

Starting September first, if you steal a penny in Texas, you could get a felony charge.

State Lawmakers are serious about fighting copper theft. Of course, they're talking about the big stuff, not pennies.

"I'm glad to see they're making it an issue, because it's a growing problem," Bob Gill, Assistant Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney.

This year, copper thieves have cost Fort Worth $130,000.

"They're getting pretty far out there. We're seeing, some of them are doing it in broad daylight," said Jason Lamers, spokesman for the City of Fort Worth.

However, it's hard to prosecute, says Gill. According to state law, it's a felony to steal anything worth less than $20,000 if it's made up of at least 50% copper.

"The problem was, that we were having to either hire and expert witness to evaluate the material, or we were having to go back and look at the building specs," said Gill.

This year, lawmakers passed a bill, getting rid of that 50% threshold.  

"The law is intended to make it easier for us to prosecute the types of copper thefts that we're now prosecuting," said Gill.

Starting September 1st, anything with any percentage of copper fits the bill. That includes pennies, which are only 2.4% copper.

"Wow. There'll be a lot of accidental felonies in the world," laughed Ann Brown, of Fort Worth.

"Technically, we could [prosecute people for stealing pennies], yes.That is one of the far-reaching examples of the statute," said Gil.

Really, as long as you're an 'honest Abe' you have nothing to worry about.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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