CAN I GO TO JAIL FOR THEFT OR SHOPLIFTING?

by Jonathan Carroll and Ryan C. Davis

Can I Go to Jail for Theft or Shoplifting? 

Yes, you can go to jail for theft, even if it is a small amount. Stolen goods or services valued at less than $1,000, otherwise known as shoplifting, can result in a class A misdemeanor conviction with a sentence of up to one year in jail and a possible fine of $2,500. The same applies to stolen personal property. As the value of the stolen property goes up, so does the punishment.  Please see the chart below for the possible penalties* for theft:

  • $1,000 or less:  A Misdemeanor; Up to 1 year in jail (11/29) and a $2,500 fine
  • $1,000-$2,500:  E Felony; Between 1 and 6 years in jail and a $3,000 fine
  • $2,500-$10,000:  D Felony; Between 2 and 12 years in jail and a $5,000 fine
  • $10,000-$60,000:  C Felony; Between 3 and 15 years in jail and a $10,000 fine
  • $60,000-$250,000:  B Felony; Between 8 and 30 years in jail and a $25,000 fine
  • Over $250,000:  A Felony; Between 15 and 60 years in jail and a $50,000 fine

*Maximum range of punishment varies depending on your prior criminal history.

How can you avoid a conviction?

The prosecution must prove that you intended to deprive someone else of their property. This means that you cannot be convicted unless you purposefully meant to steal something. If you took an item by mistake or honestly believed that you had a right to the property, an experienced attorney may be able to get your charges dismissed.

What plea options are available?  

Even if you believe you are guilty, there are conditional guilty pleas that might be available in order to avoid a permanent conviction. Under either pre-trial or judicial diversion, you may plead guilty but still have your record expunged after successfully completing a probationary period. Some jurisdictions also offer classes for first-time offenders accused of shoplifting, in order to avoid a conviction. It’s important to hire a criminal defense attorney who understands theft laws in Tennessee, and the possible ways to avoid a permanent conviction.