Evansville Police say shoplifting from department stores is one of the most common crimes in Vanderburgh County. It's also the crime that will most greatly be affected by the new criminal code. Vanderburgh County Deputy Prosecutor Jon Schaefer says 70-75% of his clients charged with theft are accused of stealing less than $750.
Under the new law those first time offenders will face a misdemeanor. Schaefer says Vanderburgh County already does that through plea negotiating with the prosecutor's office. "The common sense is you don't want to saddle some young kid with a first offense with him a felony for the rest of their life." Schaefer says the new law could save time because instead of a large number of felony theft charges many of those will be handled in misdemeanor court. Freeing up public defenders to work on more severe cases. "Number wise we will have a sort of reduction of our case loads, but in practical affect those aren't the cases that are taking up a lot of time anyway."
Evansville Police Sergeant Jason Cullum says for the past several years officers who make theft arrests have had the option to pursue theft charges against the suspects, or to pursue the less serious charge of conversion. Which in the end saves time and money for both law enforcement and the judicial system. "Compare the cost of housing an inmate just for one day compared to a $10 theft. It's just not practical to have that mindset. So that's why we've been doing it with a little bit more leeway for years." Sgt. Cullum warns that the new state law is not an invitation to steal as long as it's less than $750. "We hope people don't take this as a get out of jail free card on their first time go around. It's still a crime. You're still going to be held accountable for you actions. You just may not get that initial felony charge. It may start as a misdemeanor."
Under the new law repeat offenders could still face the more serious felony charges even if what the stole was less than $750.