Proportionality is paramount to an effective criminal justice system, and the 86th Texas Legislature took a step forward this session by passing House Bill 427. Someone who attempts to fraudulently underpay for the value of a businessperson’s goods should receive the same punishment as someone who shoplifts. HB 427 implements penalties for price tag switching that parallel Texas’ penalty schedule for property theft, restructuring the current imbalance in punishment.
Price tag switching is when a person tampers with a price tag in order to buy an item upfront for less than the marked price or return an item for more money than it was purchased. Both are examples of fraud that hurt business owners. Until HB 427 goes into effect this September, the punishment for price tag switching is a Class A misdemeanor while the penalties for property theft range from a Class C misdemeanor to a First Degree felony, depending on the value of the good. As such, Texas’ system prior to the implementation of HB 427 does not take into account the value of the property a person is trying to tamper with.
Punishment for price tag switching should mirror that of property theft. In effect, price tag switching is similar to retail theft, as it deprives business owners of the money they would gain by selling goods at the originally marked price. In other words, price tag switching is a subtle way of taking money from the cash register. Under HB 427, the escalating punishments for price tag switching depend on the difference between the actual and fraudulent prices. This change will ensure that when customers steal from retailers the offenders are penalized in a corresponding manner.
Price tag switching in the era of self-checkout presents a heightened challenge to retailers. Ill-meaning customers try, and sometimes succeed in, replacing the price tags of goods. With no cashier to directly monitor the situation, this scheme can be successful. Introducing more appropriate penalties to combat theft and punish those who exploit retailers through such schemes is a smart and prudent statutory change by the Texas Legislature.
Texas should protect business owners from fraud and theft, and the punishment should fit the crime. HB 427 does just that by removing the penalty discrepancy between two offenses that, while technically different, are significantly similar in harm to business owners.