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How does organized retail theft differ from ordinary theft?

Per Indiana law, a person who exerts unauthorized control over another person’s property commits the offense of theft. Theft has a pretty broad definition according to state law, and the penalties for a person convicted of the offense depend on the value of the items stolen.

But what about organized retail theft? It’s a theft offense, but the state treats this crime differently. For those charged with this offense, what can they expect?

Organized retail theft, according to the law

Under state rules, a person who exercises unauthorized control over a retail merchant’s property with the intent to directly or indirectly distribute the property for resale commits organized retail theft.

Organized retail theft is a Level 6 felony, but it becomes a Level 5 felony if one of the following applies:

  • The value of the stolen merchandise is at least $50,000
  • The stolen merchandise is a firearm
  • The offender has a prior unrelated conviction for either organized retail theft, theft or criminal conversion

To determine the total value of the merchandise involved in the offense, prosecutors may look at the offender’s separate acts of organized retail theft that are closely related in time, place or circumstance and charge them in a single count.

A conviction for organized retail theft as a Level 6 felony carries up to 2.5 years in prison and $10,000 in fines. Meanwhile, a conviction for a Level 5 felony instead leads to up to six years in prison and $10,000 in fines.

The main difference between organized retail theft and ordinary theft

Apart from being two different criminal charges, the most apparent difference between organized retail theft and ordinary theft is that the former starts as a Level 6 felony. In contrast, ordinary petty theft starts as a Class A misdemeanor and only becomes a Level 6 felony when the offender takes property worth $750 or more but less than $50,000.

While they’re two separate charges each referring to a different crime, that doesn’t mean a person can’t be charged for both theft and organized retail theft. Those who face these charges should consider speaking with legal counsel to understand why they have to deal with two criminal counts instead of one.