Shoplifting in Tennessee

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Shoplifting is a form of theft by property that involves the taking of property of a merchant. Shoplifting can involve other deceptive acts by a patron of a merchant, such as altering or removing the price tag and replacing it with a lowered price. It could also include deactivating an anti-theft device for the purpose of committing theft or to facilitate a theft.  

The general anti-theft of property law is Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-14-103. It provides in part a: “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.” But, shoplifting refers to the more specific theft of property of a merchant. Tennessee has a separate statute to address this as well.  

Tennessee’s law on shoplifting is labeled as “theft of property – conduct involving merchandise.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-14-146.  

The law provides: 

(a) For purposes of § 39-14-103, a person commits theft of property if the person, with the intent to deprive a merchant of the stated price of merchandise, knowingly commits any of the following acts:

(1) Conceals the merchandise;

(2) Removes, takes possession of, or causes the removal of merchandise;

(3) Alters, transfers or removes any price marking, or any other marking which aids in determining value affixed to the merchandise;

(4) Transfers the merchandise from one (1) container to another; 

(5) Causes the cash register or other sales recording device to reflect less than the merchant’s stated price for the merchandise;

(6) Removes, destroys, deactivates, or evades any component of an anti-shoplifting or inventory control device to commit or facilitate a theft;

(7) Uses any artifice, instrument, container, device, or other article to commit or facilitate a theft; or

(8) Activates or interferes with a fire alarm system to commit or facilitate a theft.

Thus, shoplifting can involve more than the act of physically hiding merchandise and removing it from the store.  A defendant can commit shoplifting by switching price labels.  Thus, let’s say that a defendant really wanted a pair of shoes that were listed at $120. The defendant removes the price label and replaces it with the price label from a pair of $50 tennis shoes.  Thus, the defendant has obtained a pair of $120 shoes for only $50 dollars.  That is shoplifting under the Tennessee law.  

The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the shoplifting conviction of a woman for her conduct at Walmart. The woman took the price tag off a cosmetics bag and placed in her shopping cart. She then placed several pieces of cosmetics from the shelves and placed those in the cosmetics bag.   

In her subsequent prosecution, the State contended that she had shoplifted. The Defendant countered that she merely placed the items in the cosmetics bag to prohibit the items from falling through the open grid of the shopping cart.   

A trial court convicted the defendant of shoplifting. On appeal, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed, writing: “Viewed in the light most favorable to the State, the evidence reflects that the Defendant obtained a cosmetics bag, removed the price tag, and placed numerous cosmetics items in it.”  State v. Gaines, 2017 LEXIS 915 (Tenn. Crim. App.)(Oct. 13, 2017). The appeals court concluded that “[t]he evidence supports the court’s finding that the Defendant knowingly took possession of the cosmetics inside of the bag with the intent to deprive Walmart of them.”

Notice that the woman was prosecuted and convicted of shoplifting even though she did not actually take the items physically outside the store. She was spotted by an asset protection specialist who then contacted the police. The police then interrogated the woman and did not accept her explanation. Instead they felt that she had the intent to commit theft.  

Another provision of the law explains that “In a theft prosecution under this section, unless applicable, the state is not required to prove that the defendant obtained or exercised control over the merchandise as required in a prosecution under § 39-14-103.”  Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-14-146(b). Thus, the shoplifting statute actually allows the state to prove shoplifting even if the defendant doesn’t actually carry the goods out of the store successfully.  

The law also provides for enhanced penalties for what is termed serial shoplifting – what the law provides as a 5th conviction in a two-year period.  See Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-14-146(c).  In such cases, the law provides for a higher classification of penalty under the Tennessee statute that deals with the “grading of theft.”  

If you are charged with shoplifting in Tennessee, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney that is skilled at negotiation. Contact Philip N. Clark of PNC Law in Nashville, Tennessee. Mr. Clark not only is an excellent criminal defense attorney but also he previously served more than 20 years in law enforcement.  He knows how to investigate the case, examine potential witnesses, cross-examine police officers and store personnel. Philip Clark will serve as a zealous advocate and protect your rights.  

Again, if you face shoplifting charges, contact Philip N. Clark at PNC Law.  

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(615) 785-2000