In legal terms, theft by conversion is an intentional tort. Conversion involves knowingly taking or using the personal property of another individual/entity, which deprives the owner of their rights to the property. While the legal definition for conversion may vary between states, the general elements of the crime of theft by conversion are as follows:
- An individual must have taken another person’s property;
- The taking prevents the owner from the use of their property, either altogether or in a way that the owner wanted to use the property; and
- Damages are incurred by the property owner.
An example of conversion would be to take an individual’s electronics to use for the day, and then trade them or sell them to another individual for money. Another example would be to take food from an individual’s garden and eat them, without the owner’s explicit permission to eat the food. Importantly, conversion does not involve instances where the owner gives their consent to use the property that was taken. As such, consent is one of the legal defenses that may be asserted by the individual accused of theft by conversion.
What Is Theft by Conversion in Georgia?
A person commits the offense of theft by conversion in Georgia when they obtain funds or property of another individual, including leased or rented personal property, and knowingly convert the funds or property for their own use, in violation of the terms of the rightful owner. Simply put, theft by conversion occurs in Georgia when an individual receives property or funds for one purpose, but then converts the property for their own personal use or gain, resulting in damages to the owner of the property or funds.
Importantly, theft by conversion can also involve the crime of embezzlement in Georgia. Embezzlement occurs when an individual or entity lawfully entrusts funds to another person, but then that person uses the funds for an unlawful purpose. For example, a cashier is entrusted to use the funds in the register to conduct day to day business, but is not granted permission to remove funds from the register and deposit in their personal bank account. If the cashier did such an act, they would be converting the funds for an unlawful purpose, and committing the crime of embezzlement.
It is important to note that there is no requirement that the police have to show that an individual sold the property or otherwise converted it in order to arrest and convict that individual. Simply failing to timely return rented property is enough to demonstrate that the property was converted and the original agreement was violated.
Georgia law states that any individual who possesses property by virtue of a lease or rental agreement who fails to return the property within five business days after a letter demanding return of the personal property has been mailed to them by certified or registered mail or overnight delivery, return receipt requested, by the owner of the property shall be presumed to have knowingly converted such property to their own use in violation of the lease or agreement.
This means that failure to follow the terms of a lease or rental agreement in Georgia involving property, could result in both civil damages involving the breach of contract, and criminal penalties involving theft by conversion. Georgia law further states that when an officer or employee of the government fails to pay on an account, upon lawful demand of the owner of the funds or property held by that officer or employee, they are presumed to have intentionally converted the funds or property for their own use.
Additionally, Georgia has laws that address theft by conversion in cases of property improvement. The law states that any architect, engineer, contractor, subcontractor, or other person who, with intent to defraud, uses the proceeds of any payment made to them on account of improving certain real property for any other purpose than to pay for labor or service performed on or materials furnished by their order for this specific improvement while any amount for which they may be or become liable for such labor, services, or materials remains unpaid commits a felony.
What Is Considered Personal Property in Georgia?
According to Georgia laws, personal property refers to any property with the replacement value more than $100.00. Importantly, the replacement value of the property excludes any late fees or other penalties that may raise the value of the property. For example, if you lease a premium television for 12 months with a total payment due of $1000 plus fees, and fail to make payments for 6 months accruing $500 in late fees, the replacement value of the television controls and the late fees don’t apply. Therefore, the personal property will only be worth the lesser of the total payment due or the current market value for that piece of personal property.
Once again, examples of theft by conversion include leased property that is not returned, rented property that is not returned, or payments not applied to an account that are used for other purposes. Thus, it is important to follow the terms of any agreement governing the use of property or funds to ensure that you are not criminally charged with theft by conversion.
Are Theft by Conversion and Theft by Deception the Same Crime in Georgia?
In short, no. In Georgia, theft by deception is the criminal act of using false pretenses to obtain another individual’s property. False pretenses involve making a claim about a past event or existing fact that deceives another individual into giving the property away. Importantly, theft by conversion does not include making false claims or wrongfully obtaining the property. Rather, theft by conversion occurs when a person takes the property from someone else legally before deciding to convert the property illegally.
For example, a random individual going up to a valet and remarking that the car being pulled up is their car, may be committing theft by deception. However, a valet that is legally allowed to park the car, but then chooses to take the car on a joy ride throughout the town, may be convicted of theft by conversion.
What Is the Punishment for Theft by Conversion in Georgia?
In Georgia, the crime of theft by conversion can either be charged as a felony or misdemeanor. The charge is dependent upon the value of the property that the individual is accused of converting. For property that is valued at $500 or less, the crime of theft by conversion will be charged as a misdemeanor. Misdemeanor charges may be punished by up to 12 months of imprisonment, criminal fines of up to $1,000, or a combination of both.
If the value of the property is between $500 and $1,500, the judge has the discretion of charging the accused with a misdemeanor or a felony. Felony charges are punishable by imprisonment of 1 to 5 years, more severe criminal fines, or a combination of both. If the property is over $5,000 in value, the maximum imprisonment is extended to 10 years. Finally, repeat or habitual offenders will often be charged with a higher charge, and will often face greater fines or lengths of imprisonment.
In addition to criminal penalties, individuals accused of theft by conversion will also have to pay back the replacement amount of the property that was stolen. Additionally, the accused may be on the hook for further civil penalties, including any and all costs of getting the property returned to the rightful owner. The owner may also choose to file a private civil suit against the accused for the civil damages they suffered from the criminal actions.
Do I Need A Lawyer For Help With Theft by Conversion?
As can be seen, theft by conversion may occur in a variety of situations in Georgia. If you have been accused or charged with theft by conversion in Georgia, you should consult with an experienced Georgia criminal lawyer immediately. An experienced Georgia criminal defense attorney can assist you throughout the entire legal process.