Have you been Charged with Shoplifting in Georgia?
Shoplifting is a severe crime, and a shoplifting charge should not be taken lightly. While a charge is not the same as a conviction, it is important to retain a knowledgeable Georgia Shoplifting Attorney from the very beginning. The crime of shoplifting in Georgia can include all types of items such as gum, alcohol, jewelry, computers, DVDs, and groceries. Shoplifting carries substantial penalties that could include jail time, fines, and possibly damages from a civil lawsuit. Lawson and Berry and their team of Georgia Shoplifting Lawyers can help you through this stressful process. If you or a loved one has been charged with shoplifting, contact us today to have someone who truly cares on your side.
Georgia Law on Shoplifting
O.C.G.A. § 16-8-14 defines shoplifting as performing certain actions with the intent of taking merchandise without paying for it or depriving the owner of possession of the merchandise or its value. The most common way shoplifting occurs is when one walks out of a store without paying for the items. However, there are many other ways shoplifting can ensue. The statute outlines five examples of shoplifting. These could be completed as a whole or just in part to be guilty of shoplifting: concealing or taking possession of merchandise of any store, altering price tags, switching price tags, wrongfully causing the amount to be paid to be lower than it is supposed to, or moving merchandise into a different container.
The value of the stolen item is relevant only for distinguishing between a misdemeanor and a felony. Drinking v. State, 155 Ga. App. 638, (1980). The value of the stolen property will be determined by the retail price of the item.
A suspect was found guilty of a misdemeanor charge of shoplifting under O.C.G.A. §16-8-14. The defendant, Grady, and his friend, Hartsfield, went to Wal-Mart to exchange two racquetball racquets. A store employee scanned the racquets, and the employee gave them two yellow stickers with a barcode on them. The racquets were worth $33.00 total. Grady proceeded to the sports department and picked out two more expensive racquets and tried to return those racquets instead of the original ones. The new racquets would be $68.00 total. The employee at the return counter informed Grady that the racquets did not match the items reflected in the barcode of the yellow stickers, and therefore, she couldn't return them. The assistant manager reviewed the surveillance video and determined that Grady did not enter the store with the more expensive racquets. The manager told the employee to give Grady a gift card for $68.00. As he left the store, Grady was asked to step aside the store and an investigation began.
During the trial, Grady argued that the evidence was insufficient to convict him because there was not proof that he intentionally accepted a gift card worth more than the cost of the two racquets. Further, Grady argued that he has glaucoma-induced poor eyesight and because of that, he was unable to read the receipt the cashier gave him and he had no way of knowing that he had received a credit of $68.00 instead of $33.00. The State did not have to prove that Grady knew the gift card he received was valued at more than it was supposed to be to convict him of shoplifting. The Court held that intent could be found when the suspect makes false statements that the merchandise had been paid for and carried around the store. Grady attempting to obtain a refund was evidence of this intent and therefore he was found guilty of shoplifting. Grady v. State, 319 Ga. App. 894, (2013).
Another example of shoplifting can be found in Robinson v. State. 293 Ga. App. 238, (2008). Here the suspect was shopping at K-Mart when he tried to leave the store with a cart full of goods through a door reserved for incoming customers. When the supervisor asked the suspect for a receipt, he couldn't produce one but claimed his mother had the receipt. The supervisor brought the cart to a service desk and contacted a manager. During this time, the suspect exited the store. Police found him a little while later and arrested him. He was then convicted of felony theft by shoplifting.
What has to be Proven to be Found Guilty of Shoplifting?
To be convicted of shoplifting in Georgia, the State has to demonstrate that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Because intent is an element of the crime, the State must also prove that you had the intent to commit the offense. Your Georgia Shoplifting Attorney will help you fight the charges and look for holes in the prosecution's argument. It is critical to your case to have a Lawyer that can effectively represent you during this process.
Penalty for a Shoplifting Conviction in Georgia
Georgia has very specific penalties for shoplifting set out in O.C.G.A. §16-8-14. It is similar to other theft crimes in that it can be classified as a misdemeanor or a felony based upon the value of the items stolen, as well as any aggravating circumstances of the crime. Also, repeat offenders of shoplifting will face harsher penalties.
Shoplifting property with a total value of $500 or less
Classified as a misdemeanor and a fine up to $1,000.00 and/or up to one year in jail
A 2nd conviction for Shoplifting property with a total value of $500 or less. (The first conviction could either be a felony or misdemeanor)
Classified as a misdemeanor with a mandatory minimum fine of $500 and possibly a prison sentence
Shoplifting property with two prior convictions of shoplifting (either misdemeanor or felony) with a value of $500 or less
Classified as a misdemeanor. The Court will impose a fine and the accused will be punished by a prison term for no less than 30 days or confinement in a probation detention center, diversion program, or another program for a period of 120 days or shall be sentenced to monitored house arrest for a period of 120 days, and could be required to undergo psychological evaluation
Shoplifting property valued at less than $500 with three prior convictions of shoplifting (either misdemeanor or felony)
Classified as a felony with fines at the court discretion. Jail time between one and ten years with the first year mandatory
Shoplifting property with a total value of more than $500
Classified as a felony with fines at the court's discretion and between one to ten years in jail
Shoplifting property from three separate stores within one county during a period of seven days or less, and property from each store exceeds $100 in value
Classified as a felony with fines at the court's discretion and between one to ten years in jail.
With regards to confinement for a misdemeanor, the sentencing judge has the authority to order that a sentence is served on the weekends or during the nonworking hours of the accused.
If you have been convicted of felony shoplifting three times previously anywhere in the United States, and you receive another conviction of a felony for shoplifting in Georgia, the consequences are a prison sentence of at least one year and a maximum of ten years without the option of early release.
In addition to jail time or paying a fine, merchants can sue shoplifters in civil court. If they are successful, they will be entitled to compensatory damages, which would include the value of the property and any other loss sustained as a result of the theft. Also, if the value of the total claim is less than $5,000, under certain conditions, the owner can recover liquidated damages equal to $150 or twice the amount of the entire loss sustained, whichever is great, and the costs of bringing the suit against you.
If you are a first time offender of misdemeanor shoplifting, then you have some options available to you through pretrial intervention and diversion programs. A pretrial diversion program may be an available plea offer for you. A Georgia Shoplifting Lawyer can assist in advocating for one of these diversion programs to avoid a permanent stamp of a criminal conviction on your criminal record. If you take advantage of these programs, it will allow you to avoid criminal prosecution. There are conditions set by the Court that require you to complete community service and or a fine. Once you complete the terms, the criminal charges will be dismissed and your record may be eligible for record restriction. If you are accused a second time for shoplifting, it is extremely unlikely that you will get a second chance to participate in a shoplifting pretrial diversion program. Our Georgia Shoplifting Attorneys are familiar with these programs and can help you find the one that best suits your needs.
Georgia Defenses to Shoplifting
Removing merchandise from a display:Taking merchandise from a display or mannequin is not considered an act of shoplifting under the statute. Hayes v. State, 168 Ga. App. 710, (1983).
Lack of Intent: If you inadvertently walked out of the store due to a mistake, such as being distracted by a child with merchandise in your hand, your Georgia Shoplifting Attorney could use that to negate the intent element of the crime. Another example is if you were preoccupied with a cell phone conversation or overcome with emotional trauma. When using this defense, the store security films can be useful to help bolster your argument.
I intended to pay for it: If you were arrested while you were still in the store, you could argue that you did not have the intent to steal the item but instead; you were going to pay for it. To strengthen your defense, surveillance evidence could be helpful. However, if you had put items in your purse or tried to conceal them, it may make this defense more difficult to prove.
The property was not valued at more than $500: Whether your crime will be treated as a felony or a misdemeanor depends on the value of the property stolen. Furthermore, your Georgia Shoplifting Attorney will make sure that the property is valued correctly and that you are not wrongfully charged.
Innocence: If you have an alibi or witness testimony, your shoplifting attorney in Georgia can use this to help fight the theft charge.
Intoxication: Because by shoplifting is a specific intent crime, you may be able to defend successfully against that charge if you can show that you were intoxicated at the time the theft occurred. If you were unable to form the required intent to steal, you might have a viable intoxication defense. This argument only applies if you were involuntarily intoxicated.
What are not Defenses
I didn't actually take anything: Even if you were not able to get away with the property or items, you could still be found guilty of shoplifting. You can be convicted of shoplifting even for an attempt. An example of this can be found in the case referenced previously, Robinson v. State. The defendant tried to leave a store with a cart full of goods. He was stopped before he was able to get out the door and convicted of felony theft by shoplifting.
I returned the property: Returning stolen property does not provide a defense to a charge of shoplifting. However, returning the property could help you look more sympathetic to a jury, and your Attorney could use that action to obtain a lesser penalty for your case.
I only switched the tags on the merchandise: This is not a defense. Switching tags has become a common means for shoplifting. Tag switching is the removal of a less than price tag from one product and placing on a more expensive item, in order to pay less than required for the item you are seeking. Although one is still paying a price for the item, that price is much less than the intended merchant price. A person who switches tags will be accused and charged with shoplifting.
I had the money to pay for it: Even if you had the money to pay for it, that does not mean that you did not intend to steal it. The Court would look at the circumstances in which the charge arose to see if it appeared that you were going to pay for it, or you were trying to conceal it.
I didn't steal anything, it was the other person I was with: An example of this is if a man and his friend went into a store. They decide they are going to steal some deodorant. The man's job was to be on the lookout while the friend took the deodorant off the shelf and walked out of the store. The friend was the one who actually walked out of the store with the deodorant. Even if the man never touched the deodorant, he could still be charged with shoplifting if the State can prove that they had a plan and they were working together.
Contact our offices today to schedule a free consultation with one of our Georgia Shoplifting Lawyers. Formulating a defense on your own can be overwhelming and seemingly impossible. Our Attorneys are highly knowledgeable and will assist you in formulating the best possible defense for your case. We will walk you through every step of the process, and we are dedicated to being accessible to you- days, nights, weekends, and holidays while working hard on your behalf. Your Attorney will make sure you understand all of your options and advise you on the best approach to take for your case based on their many years of experience. Don't wait to contact one of our Lawyers. Your future is at stake so don't sit around waiting for your case to resolve itself.