The common perception of shoplifting is that of someone who conceals an item in a handbag or jacket and walks out without paying for it. While that is certainly shoplifting, under Georgia’s legal code other circumstances can also rise to the level of shoplifting. For example, switching the label on a product and paying less for it could be considered shoplifting.
If you or a loved one is being investigated for or charged with the crime of shoplifting in or around Woodstock, Georgia, contact the Law Office of Jay G. Wall. As a former prosecutor, the criminal defense attorney Jay G. Wall will use what he has learned from the other side of the aisle to protect your rights and fight aggressively for the best possible outcome. He is proud to serve clients in Canton, Marietta, Cartersville, and the rest of Georgia.
Shoplifting Charges in Georgia
Shoplifting is covered under the Georgia Code Section 16-8-14 which states: “A person commits the offense of theft by shoplifting when such person alone or in concert with another person, with the intent of appropriating merchandise to his or her own use without paying for the same or to deprive the owner of possession thereof or of the value thereof, in whole or in part, does any of the following….” The code then goes on to list which actions are considered shoplifting:
- Concealing or taking possession of goods or merchandise in a store or retail establishment
- Altering the price tag or other price marking on goods or merchandise
- Transferring the goods or merchandise from one container to another
- Interchanging the label or price tag from one item or merchandise to another
- Causing the amount to be paid to be less than the merchant’s stated price for the merchandise
Penalties for a Shoplifting Conviction
Shopfliting penalties should never be taken lightly. The penalties for shoplifting generally depend on the value of the merchandise and the frequency of the act. For instance, a first-time shoplifting offense of something valued at less than $500 could possibly result in a fine of up to $1,000. A first offense of that value is considered a misdemeanor.
Second and third offenses of shoplifting something of less than $500 in value are still considered misdemeanors, but the penalties rise. A second offense carries a minimum $500 fine and possible imprisonment. A third offense might result in 30 days in prison, 120 days of confinement in a probation detention center, or 120 days of house arrest. The offender may also be ordered to undergo a psychological evaluation.
A fourth offense of shoplifting something less than $500 may result in a felony charge with a lengthy prison sentence. Keep in mind that even if it’s a first-time offense, if you shoplift something valued at more than $500, you could face a felony charge with the potential of imprisonment.
Lately, “smash and grab” shoplifting—involving smashing a barrier like a display window and grabbing valuables without concern for setting off alarms or creating noise—has been on the rise. Authorities tend to treat those cases more seriously than a simple one-item theft, although every situation is unique.
Possible Defenses to Shoplifting Charges
In any criminal case, prosecutors have to prove your guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In addition, authorities have to respect your Constitutional rights. For instance, they need to have probable cause to suspect you of a crime before they arrest you. If you’re just walking down the street and a police officer thinks you look suspicious, that does not rise to probable cause.
Also, you have to be read your Miranda Rights if you’re taken in for questioning. You should remember and adhere to the words of this warning closely, which states that “Anything you say can and will be used against you.” Don’t answer any questions until you have an attorney at your side.
If you are charged with shoplifting, the Georgia code clearly states that you have to be shown to have harbored “the intent of appropriating merchandise” to your own use “without paying.” In other words, prosecutors have to prove intent on your part. You and your attorney might be able to argue that you lacked intent; for instance, you may have inadvertently left the store because of a mistake, perhaps because you were distracted by an emergency phone call.
If security guards or other personnel from the store corner you with the accusation that you were shoplifting, you can argue that you intended to pay for it but you were distracted. However, if you hid the merchandise in a handbag or your pocket, this might be a tough argument to make.
You also may be able to argue that at the time of the shoplifting occurrence, you were intoxicated or high on drugs and thus lacked the required intent to steal. You also may be able to argue over the value of the item in question to possibly avoid a felony charge.
Your attorney can help you formulate a strategy to challenge the charges against you. Before you answer any questions from police or prosecutors, make sure you have a criminal defense attorney on your side.
Look to Strong Legal Representation
A criminal charge and conviction may not only result in penalties such as fines and imprisonment or detention, but may also end with your having a criminal record that can haunt you for the rest of your life.
If you’re facing a shoplifting investigation or charge in or around Woodstock, Georgia, contact an attorney at the Law Office of Jay G. Wall immediately. Your future is at stake, so set up a consultation today.