The offense of theft of property in Tennessee is graded based on the value of the stolen property. Stealing property valued at under $500 is a class A misdemeanor. Theft of property valued at $500 or more is a felony, with classifications from E ($500 to under $1,000), to D ($1,000 to under $10,000), to C ($10,000 to under $60,000), to B ($60,000 or over). In the recent case of State v. Webster, M2012-00713-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn.Crim.App. 6-5-2013), the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals found the evidence insufficient to support a felony conviction for theft of a used iPad, and reduced the conviction offense to a misdemeanor.
In the Webster case, the Defendant received a bench trial in which he was accused of knowingly pawning a used iPad which had allegedly been stolen from a home during a burglary. The pawn shop owner testified that the particular model of iPad in question retails new for $499, and can bring from $400 to $425 used. The pawn shop calculated it could sell the item for between $300 to $400, and offered the Defendant $150 for the iPad. The Defendant agreed to sell it for that price, and signed a statement that he owned the iPad, that it was not stolen, and that he had the right to sell it. Police later identified the iPad as a device reported stolen, and the owner was able to recover it from the pawn shop.
The Defendant admitted pawning the iPad but claimed he was pawning it for a trusted friend, who was his babysitter, and did not know it had been stolen. The babysitter testified on the Defendant's behalf, claiming she had found the iPad at a McDonald's restaurant and had asked the Defendant to pawn it, telling him she had received it as a birthday gift.
The trial court hearing the bench trial rejected the Defendant's contention that he did not know it was stolen and found the Defendant guilty of felony theft of property, ascertaining that it would cost (including sales tax) over $500 for the victim to replace the property, if it was to be replaced. On appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed a conviction for theft, but concluded that the evidence in the record did not support a valuation of $500 or more. They noted that replacement value should only be considered when fair market value cannot be determined. And in this case, the evidence established the fair market value of the used device at well under $500.
For more information on valuation of property in theft cases, contact Hindman & Associates.