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The Difference Between Shoplifting, Petty Theft & Grand Theft

Theft crimes all have the same essential premise: someone who commits the crime takes something from someone else without permission or authorization with the intent of depriving them of that property. However, despite this similarity, there are a wide variety of theft crimes with an equally wide-ranging array of names and associated penalties.

Image of someone putting a cosmetic item in their hip pocket in a drug store as possible theft

Three of the most common theft crimes that virtually everybody knows are shoplifting, petty theft, and grand theft. While they all do share this same premise, there is some important difference between these three charges that will make a huge difference in the penalties you could face and how you should approach your defense. In this blog, we’ll discuss these important differences to help you better prepare.


Shoplifting is a pretty broadly-encompassing term having to do with stealing merchandise from a retail store or establishment. Most people think this involves simply stuffing something into your pockets or bag and walking out without paying, but it could also include altering the price to pay less than what’s asked for, incorrectly applying discounts to prices to lower them, falsifying a return or exchange claim to deprive the store of money or merchandise, and much more. As of 2017, the law also considers damaging an anti-theft device to facilitate theft and using the fire alarm to facilitate a theft to be punishable as shoplifting.

In the overwhelming majority of cases, shoplifting involves stealing something valued at roughly $50 or less. Tennessee law classifies any type of theft valued at $500 or less as a Class A misdemeanor, which could subject you to just short of a year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. However, you could also be required to pay restitution to the victim, which in this case is the store you committed the theft at, in the event you can’t return the property in the condition that it was in. Restitution is usually either $100 or three times the value of the item stolen, whichever is greater.


Petty theft is the name for lower-level theft crimes, generally, those valued at $500 or less. This means that the overwhelming majority of shoplifting crimes are actually petty theft offenses. While shoplifting generally indicates that the victim is a retail establishment, petty theft is broader and can be applied to everything from robberies to mugging, to breaking into something to steal.

Much like shoplifting, petty theft offenses where the property stolen is valued at $500 or less are considered Class A misdemeanors, which could land you up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.


Grand theft is the term for any theft offense where the value of the property stolen exceeds $500. The name grand theft implies a greater level of severity, and for good reason: all grand theft offenses are charged as felonies, which means you could face more than a year in prison and even heavier fines if you’re convicted.

The theft of property between $500 and $1,000 is considered a Class E felony, which carries a one to a six-year prison sentence and a fine of up to $3,000. The highest grade of grand theft is charged when the property stolen is valued at more than $60,000, and is punishable by between eight and 30 years in prison as well as a maximum fine of $25,000.

Have you been accused of theft crime? Reach out to the Murfreesboro criminal defense lawyer at The Clarke Law Firm today by calling (615) 796-6299!