Do not let the name fool you. In Tennessee, Section 39-14-103, which includes the definition of petty theft, is a serious crime. You can go to jail for petty theft for up to twelve months. A conviction could also mean a $2,500 fine. Not many other jurisdictions levy penalties this severe for theft under $500 so you want to be sure to think twice for simply picking up a package of gum and walking out the door of a store like it “no big deal”.

If you are arrested for a petty theft charge it’s best to work with Fizer Bonding Company (bail bonds clarksville tn). After a defendant and their friends or family work with a Fizer bonding agent to get out of jail after an arrest, most people do not end up going to jail for petty theft. But, given the long possible jail sentence, most people can expect to serve several months of probation. Community supervision typically means restrictive conditions, like monthly reporting, remaining in the jurisdiction, and perhaps even allowing warrantless searches by a peace officer. This means that you will have a nagging reminder that everything you do is under the scrutiny of the law. 

Petty theft has some indirect consequences as well. A conviction effectively disqualifies most people from holding any job in the retail industry. Even if a jurisdiction has a “ban the box” law, potential employers can still find out about these convictions, and disqualify applicants for them, later in the process.

Additionally, petty theft is a crime of moral turpitude (CMT). Unless the court imposes the maximum sentence, which is unlikely, a 39-14-105 conviction probably will not have immigration consequences. But there are other possible effects. Since a CMT is a crime of dishonesty, these individuals have little credibility in family law, civil, or criminal court proceedings. Additionally, many professions, like attorneys, and employers, like state agencies, discipline people harshly in these cases.

The bottom line is that you do not want one of these convictions on your record. In general, petty theft is one of the easiest cases in the Tennessee Code for prosecutors to establish in court. It’s also one of the easiest cases to defend. And, even if a defense is unavailable, a pretrial diversion program may be an option.

The Definition of Petty Theft

Regardless of the amount, theft is taking any property without the consent of the owner and with the intent to deprive the owner of the use or benefit of the property. All of the following situations could result in theft charges:

  • Taking merchandise off a store shelf,
  • Moving an item to the discount or clearance area,
  • Altering a price tag, often by affixing a “red dot” discount,
  • Keeping rented or borrowed property past the return date, and
  • Under-ringing purchases at a self-checkout register.

That last bullet point is sometimes a two-person operation. We will call the two people, Amaya and Samir. For example, Amaya might buy three expensive Bluetooth speakers along with some other items. Samir only rings up one of them. When Amaya gets to the door, unless the receipt checker is extremely diligent, she will probably walk out of the store unhindered. She then gives one of the unpaid-for speakers to Samir and keeps the other one for herself. If they are caught, both Samir and Amaya could be charged with petty theft.

In court, Montgomery County prosecutors must establish all the aforementioned elements (taking of object or item, no consent, and intent to deprive) beyond a reasonable doubt. Technically, the crime is complete when the defendant first moves the item. Certainly, if the defendant walks past a register without paying, it is easier to prove intent. However, if the defendant moves the item and hides it in any way, that’s pretty clear evidence of intent to permanently deprive.

Some Petty Theft Defenses

Despite the broad definition of petty theft and the ease of proving it, there are a number of possible defenses. Most of them involve the three elements of theft:

  • Taking: Some people put items in their bags, backpacks, or purses when they run out of room in their carts, or if they did not pick up carts when they entered the store. That approach may not be a very good idea, but it can create a reasonable doubt as to the unlawful taking element. And, as mentioned below, a reasonable doubt is all a defense attorney needs.
  • Owner’s Consent: The complaint or other charging document must name an owner, and that person must testify that s/he did not consent to the taking. Typically, the complaint names the store security officer as the owner, since this person is named in the police report. Legally, that’s okay. But by the time the trial rolls around, the store security officer is probably unavailable. Alternatively, some complaints name the record property owner. After several months pass, many owners lose interest in the case, especially if they got their property back. If they do not willingly agree to testify, Robertson County prosecutors can subpoena these people. But most prosecutors rarely go this far for a petty theft conviction.
  • Intent to Deprive: This defense is closely related to the taking defense discussed above. Secreting the property (putting it somewhere no one else will likely find it), walking past a register, and paying for some items but not all of them all are evidence of intent. Without such evidence, this element is difficult to prove.

On a related note, and independent of the definition of petty theft, there may be some procedural defenses. Store security officers do not have the same power and authority as peace officers, and sometimes they may overstep their bounds. 

Resolving a Petty Theft Case

Although you can go to jail for petty theft, it’s sometimes possible to avoid jail time and even court supervision. Petty theft is a nonviolent misdemeanor. Additionally, owners may not suffer full financial harm if they got the property back when authorities arrested the defendant. So, pretrial diversion may be an option in this type of arrest.

Program requirements vary, but generally, if a defendant (particularly if they are young in age) performs a few hours of community service, attends a self-improvement class or two, and stays out of trouble for a few months, prosecutors dismiss the charges. The arrest record remains, but these records can often be expunged or sealed later. Moreover, the collateral consequences of an arrest are nowhere near as bad as the lasting effects of a conviction. 

A criminal record often starts with petty theft when a person is young and the judicial system may try to give this defendant as many chances as possible to see the wrong-doing of this crime and change their moral beliefs and standards. 

If the matter goes to trial, prosecutors must establish all elements beyond any reasonable doubt. If any defense is available, that’s still a tall order to fill. 

Contact Fizer Bonding Company (bail bonds clarksville tn) for more information about the criminal justice process and release on bail. Our professional bonding agents are available 24/7 every day of the year to get your tail outta jail ! We are family-owned and have served the bonding needs of Montgomery and Robertson Counties for over 40 years. Fizer Bonding Company is a proud member of the Tennessee Association of Professional Bail Agents. For more info about Fizer Bonding Company bail bonds, click here.

“We’ll get your tail outta jail!”

Fizer Bonding Company in Montgomery County Tennessee

(931) 449-9351

Fizer Bonding Company in Robertson County Tennessee

(615) 667-1109


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