Consummation Optional for Credit Card Abuse

By December 14, 2011Theft

Debit Card AbuseSection 32.31(b)(1) of the Texas Penal code provides that a person commits the offense of Credit Card Abuse or Debit Card Abuse if that person “presents or uses” a credit/debit card that was not issued to him and is not used with the owner’s consent.  But what does it mean to “present” or “use” a credit/debit card? Can someone “present” a credit/debit card without “using” it?

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals considered this issue recently in the case of Clinton v. State.  In this case, the appellant had been convicted of the state-jail felony of debit card abuse after she used a stolen debit card to attempt to purchase cigarettes at Wal-Mart.  Notwithstanding the fact that the store declined the card and appellant never completed the transaction, the jury convicted her of “using” the stolen debit card under Section 32.31 (the State did not charge her with “presenting” the card).

On appeal, the 6th District Court of Appeals (Texarkana) reversed the conviction and reformed the judgment to reflect a conviction for the lesser-included offense of attempted debit card abuse.  The COA reasoned that appellant did not “use” the debit card, but rather “presented” it.  Because the transaction was not ultimately consummated and she did not obtain a benefit, the COA held that the evidence was insufficient sustain her conviction for “use.”

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals took the case on the State’s petition for discretionary review.  The State argued that the COA erred by requiring that “use” of a debit card include proof of consummation of the transaction.  The CCA held:

Based on the ordinary meaning of the words as used in the statute, we conclude that the statutory terms “use” and “present” may overlap in meaning, that a transaction need not be consummated to support a jury finding that a defendant used a debit card, and that the court of appeals erred by determining that the evidence is insufficient to establish debit card abuse.

The CCA concluded that appellant “used” the debit card when she swiped it through the card reader for the purpose of purchasing cigarettes.  Accordingly, the CCA reversed the COA and reinstated the judgment of the trial court.

Judge Price concurred in the opinion, but wrote separately to opine that presentment is subsumed by use and should not be given independent legal significance apart from use.