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Tennessee Theft Laws

Many of us were taught at an early age not to take things that don't belong to us. In kindergarten, the consequences were likely a "time-out", but for adults, the consequences could include incarceration and costly fines for committing the offense of theft. In Tennessee, theft offenses are divided into two categories: theft of property and theft of services.

Theft of Property

An individual commits theft of property, if they intend to deprive the owner of the property and they knowingly obtain or exercise control over the property without the owner's consent. For instance, a server pockets a customer's watch and takes it home for personal use.

Theft of Services

Theft of services involves situations where a person:

  • Intentionally obtains services by deception, fraud, coercion, forgery, false statement, false pretense or any other means to avoid payment for the services;
  • Having control over the arrangement of services to others, knowingly takes those services for their own benefit or to the benefit of another not entitled; or
  • Knowingly flees from an establishment where compensation is paid immediately after receiving services, (including, but not limited to hotels, motels, and restaurants), without paying.

Examples include a person who uses another person's streaming services to watch movies or a person who commits a "dine and dash" when they eat a meal and leave the restaurant without paying the bill.

A Synopsis of Tennessee Theft Laws at a Glance

While it's critical to comprehend every detail of a statute, it's also important to recognize that a presentation of the statutes written in everyday language provides a useful way to gain basic familiarity with the law. The chart below is designed to provide a synopsis of Tennessee's theft laws.


Tennessee Code Annotated:


Possible Penalties


The penalties depend on the value of the property or services taken, as follows:

  • $500 or less: Class A misdemeanor, punishable by incarceration of up to 11 months.
  • $500 to $1,000: Class E felony, punishable by incarceration of 1-6 years.
  • $1,000 to $10,000: Class D felony, punishable by incarceration of 2-12 years.
  • $10,000 to $60,000: Class C felony, punishable by incarceration of 3-15 years.
  • $60,000 to $250,000: Class B felony, punishable by incarceration of incarceration of 8-30 years.

Related Offenses

Tennessee Code Annotated:

Possible Defenses

An affirmative defense is that the defendant:

  • Acted under honest claim of right to the property or service involved;
  • Acted in the honest belief that the person had the right to obtain or exercise control over the property or services as the person did; or
  • Obtained or exercised control over property or service honestly believing that the owner, if present, would have consented.

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Tennessee Theft Laws: Related Resources

If You're Facing Theft Charges in Tennessee, an Attorney can Help

Whether you're accused of stealing services or property under Tennessee's theft laws, you should consider consulting with an experienced legal expert. A criminal defense attorney can assess your options, including raising defenses or negotiating plea bargains, to help minimize the impact of the charges and possibly defeat them altogether.

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