The Kennedy Law Firm, PLLC
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Will a 5-finger discount mean a 10-year sentence?

Most retailers, especially national and international chains, build shrink into their budgets. Shrink is the retail term for loss due to damage, mistakes in inventory and theft. Retailers may spend a lot of money on theft protection, including cameras and chip detectors that send off alarms if you try to slip by without paying for an item.

Still, people will continue to shoplift. Some do it for the thrill, others because an illness compels them and others because they can't afford an item they need. Your recent arrest for shoplifting may not have been your first. However, you may have been shocked when authorities charged you with a felony.

Theft or burglary? There's a big difference

State law used to consider someone a petty thief for stealing something with a value of $500 or less. A recent amendment to this law even raised the minimum value for petty thievery to $1,000 because too many people were in jail for shoplifting. Shoplifting is a misdemeanor, and if you receive a jail sentence at all, it is typically less than three years.

At the same time the state legislature raised the value limit for misdemeanor theft, they tightened the penalties for burglary. Burglary is a class D felony. If a court convicts you of burglary, you may spend as long as 12 years in prison. Additionally, you will have a felony conviction on your record for the rest of your life, barring you from many opportunities such as owning a gun, voting or applying for certain jobs. A burglary charge may result from the following conditions:

  • You broke into someone's locked home.
  • You broke into a business that was closed to the public.
  • Your intention was to steal items or commit other crimes within these buildings under concealment.

The problem is that big retailers like Walmart are pressuring the courts to prosecute repeat shoplifters as burglars instead of petty thieves. Walmart feels that the inclusion of the phrase "open to the public" unfairly excludes the mega-chain from prosecuting thieves as burglars because the store never closes to the public. In fact, because recent revisions to the law dropped the offending words, Walmart and prosecutors feel they are within the law to charge chronic shoplifters with a felony count.

If you are facing felony burglary charge for a shoplifting offense, you have every reason to be concerned about your future. While legislators, prosecutors and appellate judges here in Tennessee argue over the wording of the law, you may find yourself in a battle to protect your rights.

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The Kennedy Law Firm, PLLC

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