The crime of shoplifting is the crime of taking merchandise that is on sale from a retail store without paying for it. Shoplifting is a crime in every state in the United States. In some states, it is classified as a form of petty theft, so it is a misdemeanor as opposed to a felony.
Usually, misdemeanors have less harsh penalties than felonies. In Georgia, however, shoplifting may be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on a number of different factors.
What Is Shoplifting in Georgia?
In Georgia, the crime is known as theft by shoplifting. When a person, either working alone or with accessories, takes retail merchandise from a store without paying and with the intent to either deprive the owner of any part of the value of the item or to appropriate the item for their own use,.the crime of shoplifting has been committed.
A person commits the act of shoplifting by doing the following:
- Taking merchandise out of a store without paying for it;
- Altering the price marked on a piece of merchandise to reflect a different, lower price;
- Transferring a piece of the store’s merchandise from one container to another, or putting an item that has not been paid for in a bag with other merchandise that has been paid for;
- Exchanging the label on one piece of merchandise with the label from another item that shows a lower price;
- In any way causing the merchandise to be sold for an amount that is different and lower than the price intended by the store.
Basically, theft by shoplifting can be committed in a number of ways but the essential element is the same; a person takes property from a retail establishment without paying for it. Note that it is possible for a person to be charged and convicted of shoplifting even if they are caught with the merchandise before leaving the store.
Are Shoplifting and Theft by Taking the Same Charge in Georgia?
Theft by shoplifting and theft by taking are not the same crime in Georgia. Theft by taking in Georgia consists of a person taking property from another individual. When taking the property, the perpetrator must intend to permanently deprive the owner of the property by not giving it back. Theft by taking is a misdemeanor if the value of the property taken is less than $1500, whereas theft by shoplifting is a misdemeanor if the value of the property taken is less than $500.
Theft by taking involves the personal property of an individual, while theft by shoplifting involves taking merchandise from a retail establishment without paying for it. They are certainly similar in that both crimes involve the perpetrator taking property that does not belong to them from another person or store.
What Is the Penalty for a First Misdemeanor Theft by Shoplifting Offense in Georgia?
A person who is convicted of theft by shoplifting for the first time where the value of the stolen merchandise is $500 or less is guilty of a standard misdemeanor under Georgia law. The punishment for conviction of a misdemeanor in Georgia is a maximum of 12 months in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. This means that they might serve no time in jail or as much as one year in jail. They might pay no fine or they might pay a fine of as much as $1,000.
The crime is a felony if the perpetrator takes property with a value of more than $500, or if the perpetrator steals property worth at least $100 from three different stores in the same county within a period of 3 days. Or the crime can be charged as a felony if the perpetrator commits smaller thefts by shoplifting that add up to $500 over a six-month period. As a felony, the crime of shoplifting is punishable by from 1 to 10 years in prison.
Defenses to the crime of shoplifting are as follows:
- Mistaken Identity: A person who is charged with theft by shoplifting can argue that they were not in fact the perpetrator; someone else committed the crime;
- Ownership: A person charged with shoplifting can argue that they they already owned the property they are alleged to have been stolen; the ability to produce a receipt for purchase of the property would assist this defense;
- Lack of Intent: the person charged with shoplifting can argue that they accidentally walked out the door without paying.
Will I Face Additional Penalties for Subsequent Misdemeanor Theft by Shoplifting Convictions?
A second conviction of a misdemeanor offense of theft by shoplifting in Georgia will be punished by the payment of a fine of at least $500. Payment of the fine cannot be avoided through probation nor can it be suspended by a judge. Payment of the fine is mandatory. This financial penalty may be in lieu of any possible prison time that might otherwise result from the conviction, or the fine may also be imposed in addition to a period of imprisonment.
So, a second conviction of misdemeanor shoplifting is punishable by a fine of at least $500 and possible confinement in jail for up to 12 months. It does not matter whether the perpetrator’s first shoplifting offense was a misdemeanor or a felony. It will be punished as provided above whether the first conviction was a misdemeanor or a felony.
A third conviction of misdemeanor theft by shoplifting will result in imprisonment for at least 30 days, 120 days of confinement in an alternative probation-incarceration boot camp, or 120 days of in-home arrest in addition to or instead of a fine that would otherwise be imposed for the crime.
In addition, a person convicted of misdemeanor theft by shoplifting for a third time may be required to submit to, and pay for, a psychological evaluation and treatment of any psychological disorder that the evaluation reveals. This punishment cannot be deferred, suspended, withheld, or avoided by serving a term on probation. In other words, it is a mandatory punishment. Again, as with a second conviction, the third conviction will be punished in the same manner whether the person’s first and second convictions were misdemeanors or felonies.
A person convicted of theft by shoplifting for a fourth time, the crime is then considered a felony. The person must serve at least one year in prison and may be sentenced to up to ten years. If the person is sentenced to more than one year in prison, then the first year is mandatory. It cannot be avoided through suspension, serving a term on probation or in any other way. It does not matter whether prior convictions were felonies or misdemeanors. The same sentencing guidelines would apply to a fifth or any number of subsequent convictions.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
A conviction of theft by shoplifting comes with serious consequences, especially if you have already been convicted of this crime in the past. Whether you are facing your first, second or third conviction for shoplifting, you should consult with an experienced Georgia criminal defense lawyer immediately to get the legal help you need with your theft by shoplifting case.