A Tennessee appellate court has declared “unjust” a controversial policy backed by Walmart that labeled shoplifters as burglars and put them in prison – for stealing something as inexpensive as a toothbrush, reports the Knoxville News Sentinel. Tennessee Criminal Court of Appeals Judge Camille R. McMullen, backed by two colleagues, said the policy is a perversion of a state law intended to punish people for breaking into houses or locked businesses. “Our review of the legislative history of the burglary statute shows that charging of burglary in these instances is unreasonable, unjust, and violative of due process,” McMullen wrote.
Nonetheless, the prosecutor in Knox County says she will continue to charge shoplifters with burglary, saying the ruling amounted to a mere legal opinion. The idea of charging shoplifters as burglars arose first in Davidson County, where it was soon abandoned over fear it was unconstitutional. But Knox County began using the same policy in 2014, mostly at Walmart stores, which has long supported tougher penalties for repeat shoplifters. The key legal question is whether a store like Walmart, which is open 24 hours a day, can be burglarized under the law. The case in question in the court ruling concerned a woman who was charged with burglary in connection with the theft of $72 in merchandise from a Walmart in Putnam County, Tenn.