Types of Theft in Tennessee and Georgia

The word “theft” encompasses a broad range of crimes. Theft occurs when someone takes someone else’s property (including money) without their consent and with the intention to permanently deprive that person of said property. It is also illegal to steal services, which occurs when someone unlawfully receives a service without paying for it, i.e., leaving a restaurant without paying for your meal. Whether petty or white collar theft, a misdemeanor or a felony, a state or a federal crime, theft is a serious charge that can incur severe penalties. It’s important that you understand exactly what type of theft you are being charged with when arrested or given a citation by police, so that you can hire a criminal defense attorney who is experienced and prepared to handle your unique case. To learn more about the types of theft Best & Brock will help you litigate in Tennessee and Georgia, keep on reading!

Misdemeanor TheftTypes of Theft in Tennessee and Georgia

 Let’s start with what is considered the lowest level of theft crimes, misdemeanor theft. Sometimes referred to as petty theft, or petty larceny, a person is understood to have committed misdemeanor theft when they steal money or property valued at or below a certain dollar amount. Petty theft is usually a misdemeanor, thus it could be punished by up to a year in prison. Many petty theft convictions will be punished by court-ordered restitution to the victim, community service, and a short stint in jail.

Tennessee’s prohibitions against theft can be found in Title 39, Chapter 14, Section 1 of the Tennessee Code. In Tennessee, theft is a Class A misdemeanor when the value of the property or service is valued at or less than $1,000. However, if the item stolen was a firearm, the offense automatically becomes a felony, even if the firearm is worth less than $1,000. Misdemeanor theft is punishable by up to 11 months, 29 days incarceration or probation and fines up to $2,500 in Tennessee. In addition to court fines and costs, judges will often order the defendant to pay restitution to the victim of theft. Clearly, a theft conviction can be more costly than the stolen item is worth!

Georgia has its own laws pertaining to theft: Title 16, Chapter 8, Article 1 of the Official Code of Georgia. Georgia law punishes theft as a misdemeanor when the value of the stolen property or service is $1,500 or less. Misdemeanors in Georgia are punishable by up to a year incarceration or probation and fines generally not to exceed $1,000 – not to mention community service, restitution, and attorney fees.

Perhaps the most common type of petty theft is shoplifting, when someone steals merchandise from a retail store such as Wal-mart. Georgia has a statute specifically related to shoplifting, O.C.G.A. § 16-8-14. Under this statute, shoplifting is not only leaving a store with an item you didn’t pay for, but also includes altering the price tag on goods and transferring the goods in a retail store from one container to another. According to this law, shoplifting merchandise worth $500 or less is a misdemeanor. A second shoplifting conviction in Georgia will incur a court fine not less than $500.00, and a third conviction carries a mandatory jail sentence of at least 30 days, so don’t take this charge lightly! The punishment for shoplifting escalates even more when the value of the stolen merchandise is greater than $500; this becomes a felony punishable by one to ten years in prison.

Tennessee has similar provisions specific to shoplifting, encoded in T.C.A. § 39-14-146, “Conduct involving merchandise.” However, the penalties for multiple shoplifting offenses are a little different in Tennessee. A fifth or subsequent shoplifting conviction within a two-year period in Tennessee is punishable as a classification one higher than is authorized by the amount of theft (i.e., when the amount of theft is a Class A misdemeanor, the crime may be punished as a Class E Felony) and a fine of $300 or more. There’s another interesting provision in Tennessee’s laws regarding shoplifting. If the employee of a retailer is found stealing merchandise from their employer, the district attorney general prosecuting the theft offense can choose to hold the employee civilly rather than criminally responsible in Tennessee. The employee will have to return the stolen merchandise and pay their employer multiple times the value of the item. For many employees, this is better than having a criminal record, and for many employers, this is better than having to fire an employee. However, this civil remedy is only available when the value of the stolen merchandise does not exceed $500.

Although a misdemeanor theft charge may not seem serious, it can have serious consequences. From losing your job, to being placed on probation, to court costs that can swallow your paycheck whole, a theft conviction can disrupt your life greatly. You need a criminal defense attorney who will fight to protect your rights and give you peace of mind when you’ve been charged with misdemeanor theft!

Felony Theft

Theft charges can very quickly escalate to a felony. The simplest way for this to happen is for the dollar value of the property or services stolen to exceed $1,000 in Tennessee or $1,500 in Georgia. See the tables below for a guide to the gradings of felony theft by dollar amount in Tennessee and Georgia.

Amount of Theft Georgia Penalties

(see penalties for theft, O.C.G.A. § 16-8-12)

$25,000 or more 2 to 10 years incarceration
$5,000 to $24,999.99 1 to 10 years incarceration

(may be sentenced as a misdemeanor at judge’s discretion)

$1,500.01 to $4,999.99 1 to 5 years incarceration

(may be sentenced as a misdemeanor at judge’s discretion)


Amount of Theft Tennessee Penalties

(see sentence ranges, T.C.A. § 4–35-112)

$250,000 or more Class A Felony – 15 to 60 years incarceration
$60,000 to $249,999.99 Class B Felony – 8 to 30 years incarceration
$10,000 to $59,999.99 Class C Felony – 3 to 15 years incarceration
$2,500 to $9,999.99 Class D Felony – 2 to 12 years incarceration
$1,000 to $2,499.99 Class E Felony – 1 to 6 years incarceration


There’s some other circumstances under which theft can escalate to a felony. If the defendant has stolen on multiple occasions or from multiple victims, the state of Tennessee can prosecute the theft as one count (a.k.a. one charge) if the theft arose from a common scheme, purpose, intent, or enterprise. So, if the cumulative amount of theft arising from one scheme exceeds $10,000, even if the individual items stolen are valued at less than that, the crime would still be a Class C felony. Another way theft can become a felony is if the stolen item was a firearm or mail. Theft of firearms is taken seriously due to the dangerous nature of firearms, as well as law enforcement’s interest in keeping a record of who is in possession of which firearms. Theft of mail, furthermore, has serious implications on citizens’ right to privacy. While a first conviction for theft of mail can be punished as a misdemeanor in Tennessee, any subsequent convictions are punished as felonies. Meanwhile, in Georgia, a conviction for theft by possession of stolen mail will always be a felony; however, the trial judge may choose to punish the crime as a misdemeanor.

 Mail theft is not the only crime in Georgia with special provisions for punishment. A provision in Georgia law gives trial judges the discretion to punish certain felony thefts as a misdemeanor. So, even though theft of $5,000 is a felony in Georgia, the defendant may be sentenced to less than a year in prison if the trial judge finds this sentence appropriate.

White Collar Crime

Of course, we can’t talk about theft without talking about white collar crime. White collar crime doesn’t necessarily have to be theft, but many white collar crime cases involve theft. White collar crime encompasses non-violent, financially-motivated crimes committed by individuals (typically, these individuals are in positions of authority), businesses, and government entities. White collar crime can be very abstract, such as theft of intellectual property, which is the stealing of another’s ideas, inventions, or creative expressions. The term “white collar crime” is also used to describe crimes such as money laundering and fraud.

White collar crime is taken very seriously due to the position of authority or trust held by its perpetrators. The state of Georgia, in O.C.G.A. §16-8-12(a)(3), provides specifically for the punishment of property taken in breach of a fiduciary obligation, or by an officer/employee of a government or financial institution. Theft committed from these positions is punishable by no less than 1 but no more than 15 years imprisonment, regardless of the amount of theft. Tennessee approaches punishing white collar crime by authorizing the trial court to enhance a defendant’s sentence when “the defendant abused a position of public or private trust, or used a professional license in a manner that significantly facilitated the commission or the fulfillment of the offense” (T.C.A. §40-35-114(14)).

Best & Brock’s criminal defense attorneys have years of experience navigating petty theft, felony theft, and white collar crime cases. Our dedication to fighting for our clients’ rights and futures empowers us to find the best possible resolution for your case. Don’t just take us at our word, though – check out our reviews to hear what previous clients have to say! When you need a criminal defense attorney, reach out to Best & Brock at (423) 829-1055 or by filling out our online contact form.