Theft may seem like a straightforward crime to understand in that it’s the act of taking someone else’s property without their permission, but in court it is actually is much more complicated than that; in the state of Tennessee, for instance, theft crimes and their punishments can vary dramatically depending on the circumstances of the case.
In Tennessee, the definition of theft of property states 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.”
The two key elements of this definition include the following:
- Someone taking someone else’s property without their consent, and;
- The intent to permanently deprive the victim of the specific property.
The basic aspect of all theft crimes is the act of taking the property without the owner’s consent, but things become legally complicated with the element of intent, which almost always arises in theft cases.
This page will detail the varying degrees of theft crimes in the Tennessee Penal Code, the punishments involved for each theft crime, the difference between larceny and theft, civil penalties for theft, and how to prepare a strong defense against any of these charges.
How is Larceny Different than Theft?
Although some states, such as Tennessee, have consolidated larceny laws with theft laws, others have not. It’s always good to know the subtle differences between these similar crimes.
Other states that have kept larceny laws separate from theft have codified its specific elements into their penal code, and these elements must be proven in order to obtain a conviction:
- The unlawful carrying away or taking of;
- Someone else’s property;
- Without the owner’s consent; and
- With the intention to permanently deprive the owner of the property.
Larceny statues are very similar to general theft statutes, and just like in general theft cases the common defenses for larceny typically coincide with the intention clause. Because it must be proven that the defendant took the property with the intent of keeping it or converting it, there exist potential loopholes in which a defendant could claim they thought the property was theirs, or that they intended on returning the property.
Different Degrees of Theft
The two determining factors that indicate the degree of theft, in any case, are the type of property that’s stolen and how much the stolen property is worth. It’s a rather simple hierarchy in that the punishments increase as the stolen property gets more expensive. There are two main categories for theft: petty and grand theft.
Petty Theft vs. Grand Theft in Tennessee
Grand theft is a much more serious crime because it entails property with higher values. Petty theft is a less serious offense that involves property that has somewhat less monetary value. The Tennessee Code Annotated specifies the limits for each degree of theft, so it is important to know these limits and subtle distinctions because there are many different levels of theft.
Petty theft limits differ between jurisdictions, but in Tennessee petty theft is defined as a theft of property or services valued at a maximum of $500. Petty theft is a Class A misdemeanor, which constitutes up to a year in jail and a maximum fine of $2,500.
Theft that involves any kind of property that has a higher value than $500 is typically regarded as a felony and is classified as grand theft. There are many different classifications of grand theft, each with varying consequences:
- Class E Felony Theft
In Tennessee, this is theft of property that has a value of more than $500 but less than $1,000. A Class E felony in Tennessee carries a harsh punishment, including a prison sentence of no less than six months and no more than a year. It also includes a maximum fine of $3,000.
- Class D Felony Theft
A Class D felony in the state of Tennessee includes a theft of property with a value of over $1,000 and a maximum of $10,000, so the jump after $1,000 is pretty considerable as compared to the previous two classifications. The punishment for this type of felony is a prison sentence of no less than a year and a maximum of two years. A maximum fine of $5,000 is also included in this classification.
- Class C Felony Theft
This classification of theft involves stolen property with a minimum value of $10,000 and a maximum value of $60,000. The punishment that is involved with this crime in Tennessee includes a minimum prison sentence of three years and a maximum sentence of five years. The maximum fine for this crime is $10,000.
- Class B Felony Theft
This is the final stage of theft classifications and includes stolen property with a value of $60,000 or more. Since there is no limit on how high the theft’s value can be, there is a varying degree of punishment for this level of crime. The minimum jail sentence includes eight years with a maximum sentence of 30 years. The maximum fine for this crime is $25,000.
Civil Penalties Under Tennessee Theft Laws
Storeowners or merchandise sellers in Tennessee can seek civil penalties if the district attorney does not object. This typically happens in shoplifting cases, in which criminal charges aren’t always necessary.
The amount that can be charged for in civil penalty cases depends on the condition of the stolen merchandise. If the merchandise is not recovered, or is returned damaged, then the offender will have to pay a penalty of the largest of either $100 or three times the listed retail price, or pay three times the difference of the value of damaged merchandise and the merchandise prior to it being damaged. This also would include a fine of the merchandise’s full retail value if the merchandise was not recovered.
If the merchandise is still sellable and recovered, then the penalty would constitute the greater value of either $100 or double the retail price of the merchandise.
It is important to understand that civil penalties are not an option when merchandise valued at $500 or more is stolen.
A parent or legal guardian can be liable for a minor in these charges if they can be found to be negligent in supervising the minor.
Preparing a Strong Defense
If the police want to question you about any kind of theft crimes, they are more than likely investigating and have their sights on you as an accomplice or suspect. In these initial situations, you should never say anything to the police without an experienced lawyer present to ensure you do not accidentally incriminate yourself.
Most of the time having a good lawyer in these cases will help you advocate for the case to be dismissed, get the charges reduced, get you acquitted or get a solid plea bargain. If you have been a victim of theft, or if you have been convicted of theft, contact us today for a free consultation and to determine what the best course of action for your case is.