Have you been Charged with Theft by Conversion in Georgia?
Theft charges in Georgia can be very confusing as there are many types under the large umbrella of theft. It is vital to your case for you to understand exactly what you are being accused of and how you can successfully fight your charge. Lawson and Berry and their team of Georgia Theft Lawyers are familiar with the subtle differences that distinguish each of the theft crimes and can help you build a strong defense. Don't wait because you and your loved one's future depends on it. Call us today and schedule a free consultation.
If you have been charged with theft by conversion in Georgia, the state must prove you unlawfully took another person's money or property and converted it to your own use. Another term associated with theft with conversion is embezzlement.
Georgia Law O.C.G.A. §16-84(a) reads as follows:
A person commits the crime of theft by conversion when, having lawfully obtained funds or other property of another including, but not limited to, leased or rented personal property, under an agreement or other known legal obligation to make a specified application of such funds or a specific disposition of such property, he knowingly converts the funds or property to his own use in violation of the agreement or legal obligation.
Another way theft by conversion can occur is O.C.G.A. §16-8-4(b) when an officer or employee of a government or of a financial institution fails to pay on an account, upon lawful demand, from the funds or property of another held by him, he is presumed to have intended to convert the funds or property to his own use. This broadened the scope of people covered under the initial theft by conversion statute. This was added to ensure that government actors would appropriate funds wisely and not take advantage of the public.
How to Determine Value of the Property Taken
The proper measure of value under O.C.G.A. § 16-8-12 is the fair cash market value either at the time and place of the theft or any stage during the receipt or concealment of the property. Buckley v. State, 270 Ga.app. 493, (2004). However, other evidence can be introduced as to the item's value such as the testimony of the owner of the value of the stolen items based on his experience in buying them, the jury's awareness of the everyday value of the item, or other opinion evidence. Smith v. State, 207 Ga. App. 290, (1993).
A defendant was found guilty of theft by conversion when he refused to return a wood chipper from a store. Defendant rented a wood chipper valued at over $20,000 from a store. He supplied the store with false contact information and did not return the chipper on the return date. After numerous attempts to contact Defendant failed, Defendant called the store and claimed that the wood chipper came loose off a truck he was driving down the highway. The store sent employees to verify the information and did not find any evidence of such, and Defendant had given them false contact information again. The store sought a warrant for Defendant's arrest, and defendant subsequently moved to Mexico with his wife. When arrested a couple of months later, he argued that the State failed to prove that he acted with criminal intent. However, the Court held that Defendant's failure to return the wood chipper, his false contact information and his flight to Mexico was sufficient evidence to conclude that Defendant had fraudulently converted the wood chipper to his own use. Terrell v. State, 275 Ga. App. 501, (2005).
What has to be Proven
To be guilty of the crime of theft by conversion, the prosecution must demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the crime. A finding of whether the defendant had the intent to convert the money or property for his or her own use is a question for the jury. The jury may find criminal intent by considering the defendant's words, conduct, demeanor, motive, and all other circumstances connected with the crime. One of our experienced Georgia Theft Attorneys can help create doubt in the prosecution's case.
Penalty for Theft by Conversion in Georgia
As with other theft crimes, whether you are charged with a misdemeanor or a felony depends on the value of the money or property stolen. If the property stolen is valued at less than $500, then you will be charged with misdemeanor theft by conversion. On the other hand, if the money or property is assessed at more than $500, you will likely be facing felony charges. A judge has the discretion to deem a crime a misdemeanor, even if it the money or property converted was over $500. Every judge is different, and that is why it is important to have a Georgia Theft by Conversion Lawyer that can try and lessen your sentence and make sure you are treated fairly through the process.
The penalty for a misdemeanor charge of theft by conversion includes a fine of no more than $1,000 and a sentence of no more than 12 months confinement. If a defendant receives a jail sentence of six months or less, the judge has the ability and discretion to allow the sentence to be served via weekend confinement or during the defendant's nonworking hours.
A felony charge of theft by conversion comes with a prison term of no less than one year and no more than ten years. The consequences of having a felony charge can be quite extensive including making it difficult to get a job.
In addition to a prison sentence or fine, there are other consequences of committing theft. The person you stole from could bring a civil action against you for damages. They could sue you and recover monetary damages. The monetary damages could include:
- Compensatory damages which would include the value of the property and any other loss sustained as a result of the theft
- Liquidated exemplary damages amounting to $150 or twice the value of the loss (as long as the total amount is less than $5,000)
- Or the costs of bringing the suit against you
- Restitution damages for any damages or harm that came to the victims because on your actions.
Defenses for Theft by Conversion in Georgia
Lack of Intent: There must be intent to convert the property for yourself or else you may not be guilty of theft by conversion. However, you could be guilty of a breach of contract claim. Baker v. State, 143 Ga. App. 302, (1977). The prosecution has to show that you knowingly and with fraudulent intent appropriated the property for your own use to be convicted. Barrett v. State, 207 Ga. App. 370, (1993).
There must be a conversion to your own use: The prosecution must be able to show that you converted the property for your own use. There must be an action or a statement indicating that you intended to take or claim the property as your own.
Consent: If you received permission from the original owner to keep the property for yourself, that is a strong defense. Evidence that you obtained consent through an email, letter, or text would be very helpful in your case and your Georgia Theft Attorney could help you get the theft by conversion charge dismissed.
You used the property as intended: An investor or stockbroker cannot be found guilty of theft by conversion for correctly applying money for the purpose in which it was intended. Tchorz v. State, 197 Ga. App. 185, (1990). The issue is whether the defendant misappropriated the money in which they were entrusted.
Innocence: If you have an alibi or witness testimony proving that you did not commit the crime, that evidence will be vital to you in court. Your Lawyer will use this evidence to help you receive an acquittal.
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 Theft Attorney will make sure that the property is valued correctly. Testimony by the owner concerning the purchase price without any other evidence will be insufficient evidence to establish that the value of the item or items exceeded $500. Denson v. State. 240 Ga. App. 207, (1999). Also, the cost of the property to the owner is not the final determinate on whether the offense is punishable as a felony or misdemeanor. Baker v. State, 234 Ga. App. 846, (1998). One of the recognized ways to establish value is the fair market cash value either at the time and place of the theft or any stage during the receipt or concealment of the property. Baker v. State.
Intoxication: Because theft by taking 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
It is unconstitutional for me to be imprisoned for theft by conversion: A prison sentence for a conviction of theft does not violate the Georgia Constitutional. Ga. Const. 1983, Art. I., Sec. I, Para. XXIII, Connally v. State, 265 Ga. 563, (1995).
I did not commit theft by conversion; I just broke a contract: Although you may have broken contract, a showing that you had fraudulent intent distinguishes theft by conversion from breach of contract.
I returned the property: Returning the money or property does not provide a defense to a charge of theft by conversion. 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. As long as you had the intent at the beginning to convert the property for your own personal use, you could still be guilty of theft by conversion.
A conviction for theft by conversion could have grave consequences as explained above. It is critical that you have an experienced Georgia Theft Attorney to navigate the ins and outs of the laws regarding theft by conversion. Your Georgia Conversion Lawyer will help defend you against the charges and protect your valuable legal and civil rights. They will be with you every step of the way and they are dedicated to your case. That means they can be reached anytime- days, nights, and weekends. Contact our Georgia Attorneys to schedule a consultation. Don't wait to call because a theft by conversion conviction will have serious consequences.