Tennessee Petty Theft and Other Theft Laws

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Defining Theft Under Tennessee Law

Tennessee criminal statutes say that “a person commits theft of property if, with intent to deprive the owner of property, the person knowingly obtains or exercises control over the property without the owner's effective consent.” (Tenn. Code. Ann. § 39-14-103.) Basically, you commit theft in Tennessee by unlawfully taking someone else's property while having no intent to give it back to its owner (e.g. auto theft).

Classification and Penalties for Theft in Tennessee

As is the case in many states, Tennessee classifies theft offenses according to the value of the property or services involved in the offense. Let’s take a closer look at each level of theft offense in Tennessee, beginning with misdemeanor theft, which is commonly referred to as petty theft, and is the lowest level of theft offense in Tennessee.  

Class A Misdemeanor Theft

Theft is classified as a Class A misdemeanor in Tennessee if the value of the property or services stolen is $500 or less. (Tenn Code Ann. § 39-14-105(1).) The punishment for a Class A misdemeanor in Tennessee includes imprisonment for a term of no more than 11 months and 29 days, a fine of no more than $2,500, or both. (§ 40-35-111(e)(1).)

Class E Felony Theft

Theft constitutes a Class E felony in Tennessee if the value of the property or services stolen is more than $500, but less than $1,000. (§ 39-14-105(2).) The punishment for a Class E felony in Tennessee includes imprisonment for a term of not less than one year and not more than six years, and a fine of no more than $3,000. (§ 40-35-111(b)(5).)

Class D Felony Theft

Theft becomes a Class D felony in Tennessee if the value of the property or services stolen is $1,000 or more but less than $10,000. (§ 39-14-105(3).) The punishment for a Class D felony in Tennessee includes imprisonment for a term of not less than two years and not more than 12 years, and a fine not to exceed $5,000. (§ 40-35-111(b)(4).)

Class C Felony Theft

Theft is classified as a Class C felony in Tennessee if the value of the property or services stolen is $10,000 or more but less than $60,000. (§ 39-14-105(4).) The punishment for a Class C felony in Tennessee includes imprisonment for a term of not less than three years and not more than 15 years, and a fine not to exceed $10,000. (§ 40-35-111(b)(3).)

Class B Felony Theft

Theft constitutes a Class B felony in Tennessee if the value of the property or services stolen is $60,000 or more. (§ 39-14-105(5).) The punishment for a Class B felony in Tennessee includes imprisonment for a term of not less than eight years and not more than 30 years, and a fine not to exceed $25,000.  (§ 40-35-111(b)(2).)

Civil Penalties for Theft Under Tennessee Law

When a person commits theft from a store in Tennessee, and the district attorney does not object, the store owner or seller of the merchandise can seek a civil penalty against the offender, instead of pursuing any criminal penalties for theft against the offender. This situation occurs mostly in the context of shoplifting cases.

The amount of the civil penalty depends upon the condition of the stolen merchandise. If the merchandise is not recovered or is returned damaged, the offender will be responsible for paying a penalty that is the greater of either $100, or three times the amount of the damage to the merchandise, including its full retail value if the item is not recovered.

If the merchandise is recovered and is still in sellable condition, the penalty is the greater of $100 or two times the retail price of the merchandise.

Keep in mind that this civil penalty is not an option if the listed retail price of the stolen merchandise is more than $500.

The parent or legal guardian of a minor who has committed theft can be held civilly liable for the same amounts listed above, if the parent or legal guardian was negligent in supervising the minor. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-14-144).

Effect of Prior Convictions on Current Theft Charge in Tennessee

Tennessee statutes on theft do not specifically address the effect of prior convictions on a subsequent theft charge in Tennessee, but any criminal conviction on your record -- whether for a theft-related offense or for any other misdemeanor or felony -- will almost certainly mean harsher punishments at sentencing time.

Tennessee's criminal sentencing guidelines mandate progressively harsher punishments for people whose criminal history indicates they are a "standard offender," "multiple offender," "persistent offender," or "career offender."

Conduct your own legal research or speak to a Tennessee criminal law attorney to understand how prior theft-related convictions, or any prior criminal convictions, may affect a theft charge.

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