- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 3, 2015

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - The Knox County District Attorney is taking an aggressive new approach against shoplifters that could land repeat offenders in prison for years.

District Attorney General Charme Allen has authorized the use of felony burglary charges to prosecute petty thieves who return to the scene of their shoplifting crimes, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports (https://bit.ly/1RspPlA). The policy, enacted a few months ago, is untested in Tennessee’s appellate courts, according to attorneys.

“We want to be aggressive toward these repeat offenders,” Deputy District Attorney General Kyle Hixson said Monday. “These retailers are really getting slammed.”

Public Defender Mark Stephens says the move is not only legally suspect but ineffective in achieving Allen’s stated goal of deterrence.

“Most of the shoplifting cases are related to poverty and poverty issues and some are related to drug addiction,” Stephens said. “Strapping somebody who is already struggling with a felony conviction is not smart deterrence.”

Shoplifting is a misdemeanor. Shoplifters who return to stores in which they have already been caught have previously faced misdemeanor criminal trespassing charges because the stores oftentimes place the shoplifters on what are known as “no trespass lists.”

Prosecutors in Allen’s office are now arguing, however, that a shoplifter banned from a store is committing business burglary, which carries a minimum two-year prison term.

Hixson said prosecutors still must show the banned shoplifter intended to steal. Most shoplifters charged under the new policy so far are professional thieves who will think twice if faced with a felony and prison time, Hixson said.

No other jurisdiction in the state has enacted a similar policy, Hixson and Stephens said.

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Information from: Knoxville News Sentinel, https://www.knoxnews.com

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