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Shoplifting Charges in Tennessee

Law Office of Joshua S. Reed May 1, 2023

Shoplifting may not sound like a very serious crime, especially when compared to other types of property crime like robbery or burglary, but this does not mean that you can simply ignore these charges or assume they won’t result in real consequences. In fact, in 2021, Tennessee made 27,335 arrests for shoplifting alone, according to the state’s Bureau of Investigation.  

If you’re facing shoplifting charges and want to learn more about your defense options, reach out to our firm at the Law Office of Joshua S. Reed today. Our experienced team can help those in Knoxville, Tennessee, Farragut, Tennessee, and the surrounding counties, including but not limited to Anderson, Blount, Union, Maryville, Oak Ridge, Loudon, and Clinton. 

Shoplifting Charges Under Tennessee Law  

Shoplifting, also referred to as retail theft, occurs anytime someone commits an act of theft “with the intent to deprive a merchant of the stated price of merchandise.” However, this general definition can refer to several different acts, such as:  

  • Physically removing concealed merchandise from a store  

  • Altering or changing price tags, sometimes called “tag switching”  

  • Moving merchandise from one container to another  

  • Unwrapping items or removing or damaging an anti-theft device in a store so it won’t be activated  

  • Making a false return with stolen merchandise   

  • Collaborating with a store employee to steal items or sell them at a lower price  

  • using a device or instrument to commit theft from a store. 

Classification of Charges in Tennessee  

Theft charges in Tennessee are classified as either a misdemeanor or a felony. Most minor infractions will be charged as a Class A misdemeanor, and this is generally reserved for stolen merchandise valued at under $1,000. For more serious charges, you’ll be facing a felony charge ranging from Class E to Class A, with Class A being the most serious. Note that the vast majority of shoplifting charges are for items valued at under $500, so most people who are charged for this crime will only be facing a misdemeanor.   

  • Class E charges are for firearm thefts less than $2,500 or regular merchandise theft of between $1,000 and $2,500. 

  • Class D charges are for stolen goods valued at between $2,500 and $10,000. 

  • Class C charges are for stolen goods valued at between $10,000 and $60,000. 

  • Class B charges are for stolen goods valued at between $60,000 and $250,000. 

  • Class A charges are for stolen goods valued at over $250,000. 

Possible Penalties  

The penalties for shoplifting generally increase with the classification. For example, if you’re charged with a Class E misdemeanor, the most severe penalty you could face is up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. Moving up, a Class C felony may see a consequence of up to 15 years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Your possible penalties will also depend on how many prior convictions you have. Typically, those with more convictions in their past will see harsher penalties than first-time offenders. For instance, if you’re convicted of five or more shoplifting offenses within two years, the level of the offense will increase (so if it originally was a Class E felony, it will now be a Class D). You’ll also see more serious consequences if the thrift reaches the level of robbery or burglary.   

Some individuals or minors charged with shoplifting, especially if this is their first time, may be eligible for an alternative sentence which could include community service, work release, or only having to pay a fine or restitution.   

Common Defenses to Shoplifting Charges  

The best way to determine your best defenses to a shoplifting charge is to meet with an experienced criminal defense attorney who can evaluate your individual circumstances and formulate the best plan for your situation. You may be able to argue that you never intended to shoplift at all and that the arrest was a mistake. Maybe you inadvertently put merchandise in your pocket to answer your phone and honestly forgot it was there when you walked out of the store. It is up to the prosecution to prove not just that you left the store with unpaid merchandise, but that your intention was to steal.   

Another possible defense is to question the validity of the witness who claims to have seen you shoplift. Perhaps they were far away when they claimed you stole something, or maybe the store was busy, and they could have easily confused you with another shopper.   

Criminal Defense Attorney Serving Knoxville, Tennessee 

Shoplifting charges need to be handled just as seriously as any other theft charge, and the best way to do this is to work with a skilled lawyer. If you’re in the Farragut or Knoxville, Tennessee, area and want to learn more about your options, call us at the Law Office of Joshua S. Reed to schedule a consultation.