In Georgia, the offense of theft by conversion occurs when a person, who, having lawfully obtained funds or property of another, converts the funds or property to their own personal use. This must happen under an agreement to apply of dispose of the funds in a specific manner. 

Theft by conversion is a crime under Georgia law. The crime is punishable as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending upon the value of the funds or property converted. The crime carries penalties that include fines and potential jail time.

What are the Elements of Theft by Conversion?

The elements of the offense of theft by conversion, must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt These elements are: 

  • The defendant lawfully obtains funds or property of another.
    • A typical example is when the defendant is entrusted with funds as part of an employer-employee, or master-servant relationship. For example, a defendant who works as a housekeeper may be entrusted with cash given to him by his employer, for the purpose of purchasing groceries for the employer’s family. 
  • The obtaining of the funds or property is created under an agreement or known legal obligation.
    • This means that the defendant and the other person are parties to an agreement that makes defendant’s initial receipt of the funds lawful. 
  • The agreement calls for defendant to make an application of such funds or disposition of such property.
    • For instance, the agreement may call for a defendant who is a payroll manager to take funds and use them for payroll purposes (to pay the salaries of their employer’s employees).
  • The defendant, instead, knowingly converts the funds or property for their own use in violation of the agreement or legal obligation, without the owner’s consent.
    • For example, the defendant, instead of applying the funds to payroll, takes the money and spends it on their own personal purposes.

For defendant to be convicted, a jury must find that the defendant had the intent to convert the money or property for their own use; that is, the defendant had fraudulent intent. Intent may be inferred from the totality of the circumstances. The jury must consider all circumstances associated with the crime, including the defendant’s words, conduct, motive, and credibility.  

What are the Penalties for Theft by Conversion?

Penalties for theft for conversion depend upon the value of the funds or property converted. Penalties may be calculated as followed:

  • If the funds or property that were converted exceed $24,999.99 in value, the crime is considered to be a felony, punishable by 2-20 year of imprisonment;
  • If the funds or property that were the subject of the theft have a value of anywhere between $1500.01-$4999.99, the crime is again considered to be a felony. The penalty is imprisonment for an amount that is between one to five years. The judge has the discretion to regard the crime as a misdemeanor, which generally carries penalties of up to 12 months in jail and a maximum fine of $1,000.00; and
  • If the funds or property that were converted have a value of anywhere between $5,000.00-$24,999.99, the theft by conversion is again considered to be a felony, to be punished by 1-10 years of imprisonment. The judge has the discretion to regard the crime as a misdemeanor, which generally carries penalties of up to 12 months in jail and a maximum fine of $1,000.00.

Finally, if the funds or property converted have a value of $1,500 or less, the crime is regarded as a misdemeanor.  A misdemeanor generally carries penalties of up to 12 months in jail and a maximum fine of $1,000.00. 

Are There any Defenses to the Crime of Theft by Conversion?

Yes. Affirmative defenses to the crime of theft by conversion include the following:

  • The defendant was unaware that the funds or property were that of another;
  • The defendant acted under an honest claim of right to the funds or property involved; or
  • The defendant acted under a right to dispose of the property as they did (that is, defendant had the legal right to dispose of the property that they disposed of).

What is not Considered a Valid Defense?

The following are not defenses to the crime of theft by conversion:

  • A defendant’s asserting that defendant simply broke a contract, and that as such, did not commit theft;
    • This defense will fail, provided fraudulent intent can be proven. Theft by conversion is not a mere breaking of a contract; It is an act of fraud that deprives an owner of their lawful right to property.
  • A defendant’s asserting that they eventually returned the funds or property;
    • This defense will fail, because, as theft by conversion is defined, the theft is considered complete upon the act of conversion. As long as the defendant had the initial intent to convert the property, and did convert the property, the crime has been committed.

Should I Contact a Georgia Lawyer if I’m Facing Theft by Conversion Charges?

If you are charged with theft by conversion, you should consider contacting a Georgia criminal defense attorney. This attorney can explain your rights and options. The lawyer can also represent you at hearings and at trial.