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Idaho SupCourt upholds use of burglary law against Wal-Mart shoplifter

The Idaho Supreme Court has upheld the state’s burglary law, over a challenge from a Coeur d’Alene man that it’s unconstitutional because it was used to charge him with felony burglary instead of misdemeanor shoplifting for taking items from a Wal-Mart store. Idaho’s burglary law simply requires that a person enter a place with an intent to commit a crime – and theft qualifies – so shoplifters are routinely charged with felony burglary if the state can show they entered the store with the intent to steal.

Ryan Rawlings stole several items from a Wal-Mart store in Kootenai County in May of 2014; he placed them in a shopping cart, wheeled it through the self-checkout line, and left without paying. When he was arrested outside, he told a sheriff’s deputy he’d always been able to take items from Wal-Mart stores in the past without getting caught.

He was charged with misdemeanor petit theft and felony burglary, and the lesser theft charge was dropped by the prosecutor; Rawlings was convicted by a jury and sentenced to two to four years in prison for burglary. He appealed.

Idaho Supreme Court Justice Daniel Eismann, writing for a unanimous court in an opinion issued today, upheld the conviction. Though many states, including Washington, don’t apply their burglary law to entry of a store that’s open to the public, Idaho does, he wrote. Idaho also makes no distinction in its law between residential burglaries, home-invasion burglaries and burglaries at open stores.

Rawlings and his attorney “may not like the fact that retail stores are within the ambit of the statute during business hours, but that is a matter within the discretion of the Legislature,” Eismann wrote. “We must apply the statute as written. If the statute is unwise, the power to correct it resides with the Legislature, not the judiciary.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com. Burglary in Idaho is punishable by one to 10 years in prison; petit theft, for stealing items valued at $1,000 or less, is punishable by up to a year in jail and fines of up to $1,000.




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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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