Amendment increasing shoplifting penalties passes first reading

An eagle statue outside of City Hall.
An eagle statue stands tall outside of the main entrance of City Hall.

GILLETTE, Wyo. — A proposed city ordinance amendment that would increase penalties for shoplifting in the city passed its first reading by the Gillette City Council Tuesday night.

The proposed amendment would allow Municipal Court judges to sentence repeat shoplifting offenders to jail, according to City Attorney Sean Brown, who said on Oct. 4 that shoplifting would likely remain a fine-only offense for first-time offenders.

But on a second offense, anyone convicted of shoplifting could face up to 30 days in jail and up to 90 days in jail for a third offense, all within the same 12-month period, per Brown.

Adding jail time, however, does not mean the judges would be predisposed to lock people up; they still have the existing tools such as unsupervised probation and community service as possible sentences, Brown said.

“I think if you were to ask (Municipal Court judges), they would recognize that this is a last resort to utilize in the event of particularly egregious behavior,” Brown said, adding that it’s likely the judges would likely go through the other tools first before resorting to jail time.

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City Councilwoman Tricia Simonson, prior to the vote, brought up concerns raised by the public recently about how different shoplifting situations–such as if someone is stealing food because of food insecurity versus someone stealing non-essential items–would be handled moving forward.

Judges would still be allowed to utilize their discretion when considering shoplifting offenses, which would allow them to handle each on a case-by-case basis, per Brown.

Such discretion is important in allowing judges to pass down appropriate sentences that match the offense, per Brown.

The proposed amendment still has to pass two more readings by the council, which will have opportunities to amend it if need be prior to final approval.