“Whether The Court Of Appeals Tenth District Erred In Holding The Evidence Legally Sufficient To Support Petitioner’s Conviction For The Offense Of Theft Of Cargo?”
Joe was convicted of cargo theft (Tex. Penal Code § 31.18) for stealing a trailer stocked with mattresses and box springs. On appeal, he challenged the sufficiency of the evidence on two bases. First, he claimed that the goods were not stolen “cargo” (an offense element) because they never left the mattress company’s shipping yard and thus did not move “in commerce.” Second, he claimed that, because he had not fully “hooked up” his truck to the trailer, he did not possess the goods. According to Joe, he did not take possession because he had yet to attach the brake lines and raise the trailer’s lifts.
A majority of the court of appeals affirmed his conviction. It held that goods were “moving in commerce” because they had been transferred to the shipping carrier. The goods had a bill of lading and were inside the carrier’s trailer, which was then sealed. It then held Joe’s act of attaching the trailer pin to his truck was sufficient for possession. It noted that “the act of carrying away or removing property” is not an element non-cargo theft. Tex. Penal Code § 31.03.
Chief Justice Gray dissented, observing that the facts amount to a possession riddle. He maintained that, until the trailer was fully hooked up to Joe’s truck, Joe could not have possessed the goods. Joe’s attaching of the trailer pin to the truck amounted to attempted cargo theft only. Further, Chief Justice Gray pointed out that there is an unanswered question: whether the goods were “moving in commerce” because, as required by the statute, they must have left their “point of origin.” He concluded that the goods had left their point of origin because they had been moved to the shipping yard from the loading dock.
Joe contends that the goods had not left their point of origin and the cargo theft statute requires the stealing to occur “between the point of origin and the point of final destination.” Interpreting “point of origin” so narrowly eliminates the “between” requirement. It also leads to absurdity because all consumer goods would be moving “in commerce” at both the beginning and end of their destination. He further argues that the offense of cargo theft—a more serious offense than theft—was not intended to apply to this situation; it was intended for organized crime. Theft of goods taken from a factory should be simple theft only.
Joe also claims that he only began the process of hooking up the truck and, as such, it was an attempt to hook it up. Therefore, he did not have possession of the goods.