Prosecutors say stores are asking for jail sentences in shoplifting cases

Published 8:35 pm Thursday, July 13, 2017

People who shoplift from Selma businesses could soon start serving jail time.

Selma presiding municipal court judge Prince Chestnut told the city council recently that at least one major retailer has begun asking that people convicted of theft start doing time.

“I’m up here to talk with you guys about the recent uptick in the desire from different businesses in the community requesting jail time for theft of property,” Chestnut said.

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Municipal prosecutor Major Madison told the council that Walmart’s loss prevention officer last month asked that a convicted shoplifter serve a 21-day jail sentence.

“Walmart had not been asking for anything like jail time until last week. They had been asking [for] restitution if the property was taken off the premise,” Major said.

However, Major thinks more and more businesses will start asking for stiffer penalties.

“The point is that they are trying to drive a message home to us in municipal court and to prospective thieves,” Madison said. “The point is that at least one major retailer in Selma is asking for jail time for people stealing out of their store. I don’t think Walmart will be the last proprietor to walk into court and say I want them put in jail. I think they are the leading edge of this.”

Madison said people had connected the closing of J.C. Penney to “the amount of pilferage or theft that was going on there.”

The municipal judge has the final say about any jail time or fines. Any theft case in municipal court is a misdemeanor, and a conviction could mean up to a year in jail or fines up to $6,000.

“I normally ask the complainant what they are asking for in a case because that’s my way of informing the court what the person that was taken advantage of is asking for,” Madison said. “The judge has the final say on sentencing.”

Anybody facing the possibility of jail time will have to be given a chance to consult with a defense attorney. Earlier this year, the Selma City Council approved an ordinance allowing for contracted defense lawyers at every court session.

Chestnut said the court is still looking to bring on two attorneys to fill those roles.

“When you start requesting jail time you have to make sure that they have the opportunity to consult a lawyer,” Chestnut said.

“They may decide that they don’t want to use an attorney, but they at least have to have the opportunity to speak to one.”

Councilwoman Susan Youngblood said more severe penalties might get the attention of would be thieves.

“I think people are getting so fed up with thefts and shoplifting. When they are fined a lot of times, they just go out of the courtroom and laugh,” Youngblood said.

Councilman Carl Bowline said he understand why businesses want something done.

“If you come to my house and break into my house, I’d like to see you serve jail time as well,” Bowline said.