Generally speaking, theft of services is defined as a crime that occurs when a defendant obtains a service through unlawful means without providing proper compensation to use that service. For example, if a defendant intentionally deceives another person to gain access to their internet for free, then this may qualify as a theft of service offense.
This type of crime can also happen when a defendant intentionally fails to pay a company for its services and uses those services for free until the company either demands payment or shuts off their service. Some common examples of theft services crimes may include:
- Using another person’s credit card to pay for your cell phone bill;
- Eating at a restaurant and leaving before the check arrives; and
- Forging a cable bill to make it seem as if you already paid the cable company to use their services for the month.
It is important to note that theft of service crimes will vary by jurisdiction. Thus, it is important that you review the specific laws enacted for this crime in your state. Many states will even have different requirements for when a theft of service crime converts from a misdemeanor into a felony offense.
Therefore, in order to learn more about the differences between felony and misdemeanor theft of services crimes in Georgia, you should contact a local criminal defense attorney right away.
What Is the Legal Definition of Theft of Services in Georgia?
According to the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (OCGA), theft of services is legally defined as a criminal offense. It occurs when a person knowingly acquires services, entertainment, accommodations, or the use of personal property that is normally only available for a price through deception and with the intention to avoid paying for such items.
Some examples of items that a defendant may take when committing this crime include the following:
- Telecommunication services (e.g., internet, cable, etc.);
- Use of a rental property, such as a hotel room or a boat;
- Repair services (e.g., car, home, devices, etc.);
- Use of public transportation without a purchased ticket; and/or
- Failure to pay for services like medical bills, construction, spa treatments, or landscaping services.
Is Theft of Services a Misdemeanor of a Felony?
Whether the charges for committing a theft of service crime will constitute a misdemeanor or a felony offense will largely depend on the value of property or services stolen. So long as the value of the stolen property or goods falls below $25,000, the court will have discretion as to how to enforce it.
In contrast, if the total value of the stolen property exceeds $1,500, then a defendant may face felony charges.
Is Theft of Services Crime Similar to Theft by Conversion in Georgia?
There are a few differences between the crime of theft of services and theft by conversion in the state of Georgia. For one, theft of services generally requires that a defendant uses deception with the intent to avoid paying for services or goods that they know are usually only available to those who provide compensation.
On the other hand, theft by conversion occurs after a defendant lawfully acquires money or property under the terms of an agreement. The crime takes place when the defendant knowingly uses that money or property in a way that contravenes the agreement and converts the property into another form for their own personal gain. Thus, theft by conversion requires a contract and a conversion of property, whereas theft of services crimes do not.
What Are Possible Defenses to Theft of Services?
There are several possible legal defenses that a Georgia criminal defendant may be able to raise against theft of services charges. Whether or not a defendant may use these defenses will depend on a number of details, such as the facts of a particular case, the laws of a certain jurisdiction, and if the defendant is considered a repeat or first-time offender.
Some common examples of theft of services defenses that may be relevant to a Georgia criminal defendant’s case include the following:
- The defendant can prove that the individual they supposedly defrauded was actually paid for the services or accommodations they provided;
- The defendant was coerced by another party to commit the crime or else they would face serious bodily harm;
- The defendant can show that the individual has pressed charges on the basis of false claims;
- The defendant can prove they possessed a reasonable belief that the owner gave them permission to use the services or other property without payment;
- The defendant may argue that they were unaware the services or goods rightfully belonged to someone else other than themselves; and/or
- The defendant can demonstrate that they intended to pay for the goods or services, but a clerical error prevented their payment from processing (e.g., wrong address, typo in their bank account information, etc.).
What Is the Punishment for Misdemeanor Theft of Services in Georgia?
In general, the typical punishment issued to defendants who are convicted of misdemeanor theft of services in the state of Georgia usually include one or more of the following penalties:
- A jail sentence of no longer than a year;
- Criminal fines of up to $1,000; or
- A combination of fines and a jail sentence.
It should be noted, however, that there are many other factors that may affect the level of punishment that a defendant receives. For instance, if the defendant is a repeat offender, then the court may issue a stricter sentence. A court may also decide to issue a harsher punishment if the defendant committed a felony crime during the commission of the theft of services, even if the theft only constituted a misdemeanor.
One other major factor that could impact the type of punishment that a Georgia criminal defendant receives at their sentencing hearing is the total value of property that was stolen. In most cases, if the stolen property amounts to less than $1,500, then a first-time offender will be punished in accordance with Georgia state penalties for misdemeanor crimes. The type of property or services that were taken may also have an effect on the penalty as well.
Should I Contact a Lawyer Regarding My Theft of Services Charge?
If you are facing misdemeanor charges for committing the crime of theft of services in Georgia, then it may be in your best interest to speak to a Georgia criminal lawyer in your area as soon as possible. A Georgia lawyer who has experience in handling criminal cases involving theft of services charges will already be familiar with the state laws and legal defenses associated with such crimes.
Your lawyer will also be able to apprise you of your legal rights as a criminal defendant under the laws of Georgia state and can provide legal representation in criminal court or at a conference with the prosecutor to negotiate a plea deal.
Alternatively, if you wish to report someone for committing theft of services, then you should consider hiring a Georgia criminal lawyer who practices law in your county to make sure you comply with the proper legal procedures and do not violate any state or local requirements. In addition, your lawyer can assist you in bringing a civil lawsuit against another party for the purposes of recovering monetary damages if your case warrants such measures to be taken.