Having a shoplifting conviction on your criminal record can affect a person's employment and housing opportunities. If you or your loved one is charged with theft by shoplifting in Georgia, you should speak with a criminal defense attorney to protect your rights and ensure the best possible result. Will Kelbaugh has represented dozens of clients who have been accused of theft by shoplifting. Contact the Kelbaugh Firm today to discuss your case.
Depending on the circumstances, theft by shoplifting can be prosecuted in a municipal court, state court, or superior court. There are nuances to defending a theft by shoplifting case, depending on the type of court in which it is being prosecuted. Municipal courts are the courts of cities. They are sometimes called city courts.
Theft by shoplifting is defined in OCGA 16-8-14. If the items that were subject of the "theft" are $500 or less in value, then theft by shoplifting will be usually be prosecuted as a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a $1,000 fine. If the alleged theft occurred within a municipality that has a municipal court, OCGA 36-32-9 grants concurrent jurisdiction to the municipal court to handle the case, such as Brookhaven Municipal Court, Dunwoody Municipal Court, Decatur Municipal Court, or Clarkston Municipal Court. Anyone charged with theft by shoplifting or refund fraud in a municipal court in Georgia is entitled to transfer their case to the court that has general jurisdiction of misdemeanors within the county, pursuant to OCGA 36-32-9(b). State courts have general jurisdiction of misdemeanor in most metro Atlanta counties. If there is no state court in a county, then the superior court will have general jurisdiction of misdemeanors committed in that county. Deciding whether to transfer a theft by shoplifting case from a municipal court is complex and should be discussed with an experienced attorney to ensure the best possible outcome.
According to OCGA 16-8-14, theft by shoplifting occurs when a person, either alone or with someone else, and having the necessary criminal intent, does one of the following things:
(1) conceals or takes possession of merchandise;
(2) alters the price tag;
(3) transfers merchandise from one container to another;
(4) changes the label or price tag from one item for another; or
(5) wrongfully causes the price paid to be less than the store's stated price.
However, simply doing one of the above 5 things does not make a person guilty of theft by shoplifting. The State of Georgia must also prove that the person had the necessary criminal intent. For theft by shoplifting, the necessary criminal intent means that a person must have had the intent to:
(1) take the merchandise for their own use without paying; or
(2) deprive the owner of possession or of the value of the merchandise.
If the value of the stolen items is greater than $500, then theft by shoplifting can be prosecuted as a felony, punishable by one to ten years' imprisonment. OCGA 16-8-14(b)(2). Further, the value of stolen items from multiple stores on multiples days can be added together to reach $500 and prosecute a person for a felony. When a person has previously been convicted of theft by shoplifting, they face stiffer mandatory penalties. If a person has three prior convictions for theft by shoplifting, then they can be prosecuted for a felony, regardless of the value of the merchandise stolen.
If you or a loved one are charged with theft by shoplifting, call the Kelbaugh Firm to discuss your options.