Tennessee Laws on Misdemeanor and Felony Theft and Shoplifting

Like many states, Tennessee classifies its theft offenses according to the value of the stolen property or services. Theft can quickly add up to a felony and possibly time in prison.

Tennessee's theft statute covers a broad range of prohibited conduct, including embezzlement, false pretenses, fraudulent conversion, larceny, receiving or concealing stolen property, and other similar offenses.

Theft of Property and Services Under Tennessee Law

Under Tennessee law, theft occurs when a person takes someone else's property without their consent and with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of that property. This definition includes the crimes of larceny, embezzlement, receiving or concealing stolen property, and fraudulent conversion of property.

Tennessee also prohibits stealing services. A person commits theft of services in the following ways:

  • obtaining services using deceit, fraud, coercion, forgery, false statements, or false pretenses
  • using services meant for others for their own benefit, or
  • leaving businesses, such as hotels and restaurants, without paying for services.

Let's take a look at the classifications and penalties for offenses that fall under the theft statutes.

(Tenn. Code. §§ 39-14-103, -104 (2020).)

Classification and Penalties for Theft in Tennessee

Similar to many states, Tennessee classifies theft offenses according to the value of the property or services involved in the offense.

Class A Misdemeanor Theft

Theft constitutes a Class A misdemeanor if the stolen property or services has a value of $1,000 or less. In such a case, the offender faces penalties of up to 11 months and 29 days of incarceration and a $2,500 fine.

Class E Felony Theft

A person commits a Class E felony when the value of the stolen property or services involved is more than $1,000 but less than $2,500. The punishment for a Class E felony includes imprisonment for one to six years and a $3,000 fine.

Class D Felony Theft

Theft becomes a Class D felony if the value of the property or services stolen is at least $2,500 but less than $10,000. A Class D felony carries two to 12 years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Class C Felony Theft

Stealing property or services valued at $10,000 or more but less than $60,000 results in a Class C felony. A guilty person is subject to three to 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Class B Felony Theft

An offender is guilty of a Class B felony when the value of the stolen property or services is $60,000 or more but less than $250,000. The defendant faces eight to 30 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.

Class A Felony Theft

A person commits a Class A felony if the value of the stolen property or services is $250,000 or more. Such an offense is punishable by 15 to 60 years in prison and a $50,000 fine.

(Tenn. Code §§ 39-14-105, 40-35-111 (2020).)

Sentencing Alternatives and Enhancements for Theft Charges in Tennessee

Tennessee law provides both sentencing alternatives and enhancements for theft offenders.

Sentencing Alternatives

Sentencing alternatives apply to offenders convicted of theft of property, services, or merchandise valued at less than $1,000. Examples of alternatives include payment of a fine or restitution only, a suspended sentence, work release, or a community-based alternative to incarceration.

Sentencing Enhancements

Tennessee's criminal sentencing guidelines mandate progressively harsher punishments for people whose criminal history indicates they are a "multiple offender," "persistent offender," or "career offender." Instead of receiving the standard sentences (called Range I) listed above, these offenders face enhanced sentences found in Ranges II and III.

Multiple offenders. Defendants who face their third, fourth, or fifth felony may be classified as a multiple offenders. Judges must impose a sentence within Range II for multiple offenders.

Persistent offenders. Defendants who face their sixth or subsequent felony can be classified as a persistent offender. For these offenders, judges must impose a sentence within Range III.

Career offenders. Defendants who have received their seventh or subsequent felony may be classified as career offenders. Judges must impose the maximum sentence within Range III for career offenders.

(Tenn. Code §§ 40-35-104 to -108, -112, -122 (2020).)

Shoplifting Penalties

Tennessee law provides for criminal and civil penalties when it comes to the crime of shoplifting.

Criminal Penalties

Theft by shoplifting occurs when, intending to deprive the store owner of the full value of the goods, a person does any of the following:

  • conceals or removes the merchandise
  • alters or switches the price tag
  • transfer the merchandise from one container to another
  • causes the cash register to display the wrong price
  • disables any security devices
  • uses any device or instrument to facilitate the theft, or
  • activates or interferes with a fire alarm system.

Shoplifting crimes carry the same penalties for theft (described above) based on the value of the stolen goods. Additionally, a fifth or subsequent shoplifting offense within a two-year period increases the punishment by one classification. For instance, a Class A misdemeanor bumps up to a Class E felony. The court must also impose a minimum $300 fine.

Civil Penalties in Lieu of Criminal Prosecution

Instead of criminal prosecution, the district attorney (prosecutor) may allow a retail merchant to sue for damages in civil court. This option only applies if the listed retail price of the stolen merchandise is less than $500.

Offenders who may be held civilly liable to the merchant owner include:

  • an adult shoplifter
  • a parent or legal guardian of a minor who shoplifted, if the parent or guardian was negligent in supervising the minor, or
  • an employee who shoplifted from their merchant employer.

The civil penalties vary depending on whether the stolen merchandise was recovered and, if so, in what condition. Generally speaking, the merchant can recover two to three times the value of the stolen goods.

(Tenn. Code §§ 39-14-144, -146 (2020).)

Talk to a Lawyer

If you have been charged with a theft-related crime, contact a local criminal defense attorney. An experienced attorney will guide you through the criminal court process and thoroughly discuss with you any potential defenses to your charges.

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