For things like birthdays, weddings, graduations, and other significant life events, people often give gift cards as presents. Preloaded with funds, these plastic devices allow the cardholder to make purchases at predesignated shops, restaurants, and other establishments. For the most part, having a gift card isn’t illegal. In fact, even having a few cards at one time isn’t a crime.
But things start heading into criminal territory when a person has a gift card, and perhaps a few other instruments or devices, and they’re near an area where an offense has occurred. Looking circumstances, law enforcement officials might have reasonable cause to believe that the gift card holder has committed a crime.
Let’s look into that a little deeper.
Instruments Used to Commit Offenses
For many crimes to be carried out, often, the person planning on committing the offense must have specific tools to do so. To discourage (or prevent) people from committing crimes, Texas has a law that prohibits individuals from possessing or using instruments that are fashioned to further the commission of an offense.
For instance, say Alex wants to take people’s credit card information without stealing the physical card. To do this, he must have a skimmer device to get the card number and gift cards to transfer the information onto and use to make purchases. Because this is illegal behavior, the gift cards, as well as the skimmer, are now considered criminal instruments. Thus, even though having gift cards themselves is not a crime, in this instance, it is.
The law prohibiting the possession of a criminal instrument does not just pertain to gift cards. If a person has anything that can be used to commit a crime, they could be charged with an offense.
Criminal instruments can be ordinary objects that a person has at home or in their car, such as:
- Power tools
Objects that aren’t necessarily illegal but may raise suspicion if someone has them, such as uncut key fobs, can also be on the above list.
When determining whether or not a tool or other device, like a gift card, is intended to be used for an offense, law enforcement officials will look at the totality of the circumstances. Returning to the example with Alex, say an officer saw him driving around a gas station a couple of times, stopping at various pumps while there. Such behavior may raise suspicion, and if the officer has cause to stop Alex and sees the gift cards along with the skimming device, they may suspect that he was trying to take people’s credit or debit card numbers.
The Punishments for Having Criminal Instruments
If someone is convicted of possessing a criminal instrument, the punishments are almost as harsh as those for the crime they intended to commit. They may be charged and penalized at one level lower than the intended offense.
For instance, if Alex from the earlier example is accused of possessing or using 7 credit card numbers, he faces a third-degree felony identity theft charge, which carries a prison term between 2 and 10 years. Unlawful use of a criminal instrument would be charged as a state jail felony, which is punishable by up to 2 years in state jail.