In order to understand the crime of theft by deception, one must first understand the general crime of theft. In legal terms, theft is the generic term for crimes in which one person intentionally takes the property of another individual, without that person’s permission or consent, and with the intent to convert the property for their own use.
Next, an individual must then understand the differences between the crimes of theft by conversion and the crime of theft by deception. The crime of theft by conversion in Georgia occurs when a person obtains funds or property of another individual, including leased or rented personal property, and knowingly converts the funds or property for their own use, in violation of the terms of the rightful owner.
The crime of theft by deception in Georgia occurs when a person obtains property of another by using deceitful means. In other words, theft by deception is a crime that involves the use of false pretenses to obtain someone else’s property. The property that can be deceptively stolen can range from a social security number to numbers on a charge card that give the person access to another person’s money.
When a person uses false pretenses with the intent to create or reinforce a false belief regarding law, material facts, intentions, or value of property with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of property, they will be considered to have committed theft by deception.
What Is Theft by Deception in Georgia?
The Official Code of Georgia Annotated (“O.C.G.A.”) is the official code of criminal statutes that contains the definition and criminal elements necessary to be convicted of theft by deception in Georgia. Theft by Deception O.C.G.A. laws provide the following definition for theft by deception in Georgia:
- A person commits the offense of theft by deception when he obtains property by any deceitful means or artful practice with the intention of depriving the owner of the property.
- A person deceives if he intentionally:
- Creates or confirms another’s impression of an existing fact or past event which is false and which the accused knows or believes to be false;
- Fails to correct a false impression of an existing fact or past event which he has previously created or confirmed;
- Prevents another from acquiring information pertinent to the disposition of the property involved;
- Sells or otherwise transfers or encumbers property intentionally failing to disclose a substantial and valid known lien, adverse claim, or other legal impediment to the enjoyment of the property, whether such impediment is or is not a matter of official record; or
- Promises performance of services which he does not intend to perform or knows will not be performed. Evidence of failure to perform standing alone shall not be sufficient to authorize a conviction under this subsection.
- “Deceitful means” and “artful practice” do not, however, include falsity as to matters having no pecuniary significance, or exaggeration by statements unlikely to deceive ordinary persons in the group addressed.
In other words, when a Georgia citizen obtains property of another person by deceitful means with the intent to permanently deprive the actual owner of that property, then they may be criminally charged with theft by deception. Additionally, the person may also be civilly liable for causing monetary damages to the person that they stole the property from, which opens them to civil liability in addition to criminal liability.
What Does It Mean To Deceive Someone Under Georgia Law?
The definition for deceitful means was provided above. In short, a person is considered to have deceived someone under Georgia law when they intentionally:
- Create or confirm an individual’s impression of a false material fact or fake past event;
- Fail to correct a past false impression that the thief created;
- Stop another person from acquiring important information regarding their property;
- Sell property without disclosing an encumbrance that affects the value of the property, such as a lien; and/or
- Promise to perform services that the thief does not intend to do.
- Once again, failure to perform without the intent to deceive is not enough to be convicted of theft by deception.
What Are Some Examples of Theft by Deception?
There are numerous ways in which an individual may commit theft by deception in the state of Georgia. Common examples of theft by deception in Georgia include:
- Billing another person for work that is not done or that the person knows they will not perform;
- Stealing another person’s property and then selling that property to a store for a profit, without disclosing that the property does not belong to the thief
- For instance, there are numerous cases of people in Georgia stealing property from parked trucks or cars and then selling the property to a store while giving an impression that they are the rightful owner;
- Promising to perform services for a person and asking for their credit or charge card information to then utilize in a phishing scam to take another individual’s money without ever having the intent to perform any services;
- Selling property to another person without disclosing that there is a lien or other encumbrance on the property; and/or
- Giving the impression that the person will pay for food at a restaurant, and then leaving the restaurant without paying for the food (i.e. dining and dashing).
What Is the Punishment of Theft by Deception in Georgia?
Similar to other theft crimes in the state of Georgia, the criminal penalties for theft by deception will be dependent on whether or not the person is charged with a misdemeanor or a felony. If the property that was acquired by deception was valued at less than $500, then the person will be charged with misdemeanor theft by deception. This means that if the property that was acquired by deception was valued at more than $500, then the person will be charged with felony theft by deception.
It is important to note that the state prosecution and judge have the discretion to lessen a felony theft by deception charge to a misdemeanor theft by deception charge, even when the property is valued at over $500.
The criminal penalties for misdemeanor theft by deception includes criminal fines of up to $1,000 and imprisonment for a period of up to one year. On the other hand, the criminal penalties for felony theft by deception includes heavier criminal fines, imprisonment of one to ten years, or a combination of both.
Additionally, being charged with a felony also includes other consequences, such as making it difficult to obtain a job, obtain a professional license, or own a firearm.
What Defenses Are Available for Georgia Theft by Deception?
Similar to other criminal acts, a defendant may assert a legal defense to a theft by deception charge. An affirmative defense serves to lessen or erase the criminal penalties associated with a theft by deception charge.
Common examples of legal defenses that are available for Georgia theft by deception include:
- Lack of Intent: As mentioned above, intent is a crucial element to being convicted of a theft crime. As such, if there was no intent to deceive the victim of the crime, then the charges brought against the defendant will be lessened or dismissed;
- Promise of Future Payment: In the Georgia case of Elliott v. State, the defendant in that case was not found guilty of theft by deception when they promised to make a future payment for furniture they took from a store with the promise of paying in the future, as the defendant did not make false representations.
- Importantly, the person may still be civilly sued for the value of the property that they took with a promise to pay in the future;
- Innocence: Any evidence that the defendant was not the person that actually committed the crime, such as providing an alibi or witness, will serve to have the charges brought against them dropped; and/or
- The Truth: If there were no false representations given, and the theft by deception is based on a misrepresentation, then the charges brought will likely be dropped.
Should I Contact a Lawyer If I Have Been Charged With Theft by Deception in Georgia?
As can be seen, theft by deception may occur in a variety of situations in Georgia. If you have been accused or charged with theft by deception 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.