Harsher punishments for repeat shoplifters may be on the way with Tennessee Supreme Court opinion

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TRI-CITIES, Tenn. (WJHL) – An opinion by the Tennessee Supreme Court aims to help retailers crackdown on repeat shoplifters.

The recent opinion comes from the State of Tennessee v. Abbie Leann Welch, where the Tennessee Supreme Court upheld a new concept of prosecuting repeat shoplifters for felony burglary, a class D felony.

District Attorney General Kenneth Baldwin said he alerted his prosecutors today that shoplifting cases that meets Class D felony requirements are treated as such.

Meanwhile, Lt. Kevin Peters of the Johnson City Police Department said shoplifting is a big problem for stores in the area.

“Since January the 1st of 2019, we’ve had 86 incidents where we’ve arrested subjects where we’ve charged them with both trespassing and shoplifting, which that tells us they’ve already been trespassed from that business once before,” said Lt. Peters. “Here in Johnson City, we are seeing this more and more.”

According to District Attorney General Kenneth Baldwin, these felony convictions would apply to repeat offenders banned from a particular retail outlet, complete with a signed document.

“[The] shoplifting I’m talking about are by in large not just what the public may have in mind as a shoplifter,” said Baldwin, “they have morphed into very desperate situations where the defendant engages in very violent activity.”

Baldwin points out one case in 2015, where a repeat offender was spotted shoplifting at the Walmart on West Market Street. She attempted to escape from authorities by driving into oncoming traffic and hit another car.

Baldwin and Lt. Peters agree many of these cases have to do with drug activity.

“People are ordering certain things and they are sending people to go in and shoplift and then that merchandise is traded for drugs,” said Lt. Peters.

Baldwin said most of these repeat offenders will likely see a short jail sentence, along with probation and placement in an addiction program.

“We’ll have control over them for a longer period of time to try to address their drug addiction,” he said, “if we don’t do something to address their drug addiction, they’re going to keep doing these things.”

According to Baldwin, a Class D felony carries a punishment of two to four years in prison for those with none or one prior felony conviction.

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