RLC Brief: Burglary Law Should Apply to Serial Shoplifters

This term, the Tennessee Supreme Court will decide whether the state of Tennessee can use its burglary statute to prosecute serial shoplifters who have been issued no-trespass warnings, banning them from re-entering retail stores. Leading retailers are encouraging the court to uphold this practice, arguing that habitual shoplifters should face more stringent consequences to deter them from re-victimizing the same retail establishment.

“Retailers are doing all they can to combat the growing problem of shoplifting. But their efforts cannot succeed unless they are backed up by serious legal consequences, including the use of a felony burglary charge for shoplifters who return to stores after they’ve been issued a trespass warning by the retail establishment,” said Deborah White, president of the Retail Litigation Center (RLC) & general counsel of the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA).

The RLC, along with the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention (NASP) and the Tennessee Retail Association (TRA), filed a friend-of-the-court brief asking the Tennessee Supreme Court to permit the enforcement of felony burglary statutes to cover habitual shoplifters who ignore no-trespass notices and then re-enter retail establishments to try to steal more products.

Shoplifting costs retailers billions of dollars each year. And worse than the financial harm, is the risk to physical safety. Shoplifting frequently escalates into violent encounters that put bystanders, store workers, and first responders at risk. Each year retail workers are killed or gravely injured during shoplifting apprehensions that turn violent.

Retailers collectively invest billions in preventing and deterring shoplifting. No-trespass letters are critical to retailers’ efforts to combat shoplifting, because they directly target repeat offenders—and specifically address the need to deter serial shoplifters from returning to the same store.

“Shoplifters who re-enter a store to steal, again, after having been barred from that store have committed a serious crime, which should carry serious penalties,” said White. “Permitting the enforcement of burglary statutes is well within the state’s prerogative and constitutional bounds. Retaining this arrow in the enforcement quiver is good public policy to help stem the tide of serial shoplifting.”

The case before the court is State of Tennessee v. Abbie Leann Welch.
Directed by the chief legal officers of the country's leading retail companies, the Retail Litigation Center (RLC) is the only organization dedicated to advocating for the industry's top priorities in the federal and state judiciary. The RLC also works with leading law firms and retail corporate counsel to develop forward-thinking strategies to combat meritless mass action litigation. Founded by the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) in 2010 as an independent organization, the RLC is a 501(c)(6) membership association open to all retailers and select law firms.

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