It’s a popular crime. More than 100,000 thefts were reported in the State of Georgia in 2020. If you are placed under arrest and charged with theft in or near the Augusta area, you must be advised and represented by an Augusta criminal defense lawyer.

What constitutes theft in this state? What are your rights if you face a criminal theft charge? How will you be able to defend yourself, and what steps will you need to take? If you’ll keep reading this brief discussion of theft and your rights in Georgia, these questions will be answered below.

How is Theft Defined in Georgia Law?

A theft is committed in Georgia when someone takes or converts someone else’s services or property without the owner’s consent and while intending to deprive the owner of the use, the possession, or the right to the services or property. It’s a definition that covers a number of acts.

Someone may take personal property (a vehicle, a television, stocks, or cash, for example) or real property (land or a title to land). The “depriving” may be temporary or permanent; it may include disposing of or destroying property so that it’s difficult or impossible to recover.

Additionally, someone may steal services like taxi fares, hotel accommodations, or restaurant checks by deceiving one or more persons or by simply running away to avoid payment for the services. Georgia law also covers trade secret theft and the theft of lost or misplaced property.

In the Legal Sense, How Are Thefts Committed?

A theft may happen simply by taking something, or it may happen through conversion, extortion, or embezzlement. “Taking” may mean taking someone’s purse or taking cash electronically from someone’s account, for example.

Theft through deception, however, might mean tricking someone into sending away or giving money for a phony prize, product, or service.

Conversion happens when someone turns the legal use of another’s property into a use that isn’t legal, like an adult child who steals his or her elderly parent’s cash for a vacation rather than paying the elderly parent’s bills with the cash.

An extortionist illegally obtains property through threatening defamation, bodily harm, or some other type of negative consequence.

How Does Georgia Deal With Theft Crimes?

If you are charged with theft, fraud, extortion, embezzlement, or shoplifting, contact an Augusta theft attorney at once.

Georgia penalizes some theft convictions (for theft by “taking”) based on the value or type of services or property that was stolen. Other theft crimes, such as shoplifting and extortion, carry their own penalties.

Anyone who is convicted of stealing services or property valued at or under $1,500 will be charged with misdemeanor theft. If the sentence is six months or less, a judge may let the offender serve that sentence on weekends or after working hours.

What Are “Wobbler” Offenses?

If an offender has more than one previous theft conviction, a judge may impose the sentence for a misdemeanor or may instead impose a felony sentence and send the offender to a state prison.

The theft of services or property valued at over $1,500 but below $5,000 may be treated by a judge as a felony or as a misdemeanor. If the value of stolen services or property exceeds $5,000 but is below $25,000, the judge may also impose a felony sentence or a misdemeanor sentence.

Both charges are called “wobblers,” which means that, upon a conviction, the judge may sentence the offense as a misdemeanor or as a felony.

Which Theft Crimes Are Felonies in Georgia?

These theft crimes are considered felonies in the State of Georgia:

  1. theft of services or property valued at or above $25,000
  2. theft through the breach of a fiduciary obligation
  3. theft by a financial institution or government employee through a breach of duties
  4. theft of any quantity of anhydrous ammonia (used for making methamphetamine)
  5. theft of a destructive device, firearm, or explosive
  6. theft that involves a memorial or a gravesite

If the victim is 65 years of age or older, a theft by deception of property valued above $500 is considered a felony. Theft through extortion is also considered a felony. The theft of a trade secret is a misdemeanor unless the secret’s value exceeds $100, and then it’s a felony.

Judges in Georgia impose harsh sentences on repeat felony offenders. For a second or subsequent conviction for a felony, an offender will be required to serve the maximum sentence for the offense. Anyone convicted for a fourth or subsequent felony cannot qualify for parole.

How Are Shoplifting Cases Handled?

A separate law governs shoplifting in this state. A shoplifting charge doesn’t require the shoplifter to succeed with the crime. You can be charged with shoplifting if you are caught stealing merchandise at a retail location before you are able to exit the store.

Shoplifting includes swapping price tags or containers, counterfeiting or altering UPC code labels, and deceiving a retailer to receive a “refund” fraudulently. Shoplifting is a misdemeanor charge when the stolen property’s value is at or below $500.

Shoplifting items worth over $500 triggers a felony charge, and prosecutors in Georgia may pursue a felony charge for smaller thefts that total $500 or more over a period of six months. Repeat shoplifting offenders may be ordered to submit to a clinical psychological evaluation.

What Else Should You Know About Theft Crimes in Georgia?

This state allows all theft victims – and not only retailers – to sue convicted theft offenders for damages in civil court. Before taking legal action, the victim must send a demand in writing to the offender and allow the offender thirty days to pay both:

  1. compensatory reimbursement for the stolen property and other losses incurred as a result of the crime
  2. punitive damages of $300 or triple the amount of the victim’s loss, whichever is greater

How Will a Defense Attorney Help You?

Anyone who is facing a theft charge in or near the Augusta area must obtain a good defense lawyer’s help immediately. In many theft cases, an Augusta criminal defense lawyer may be able to help you avoid a conviction.

In some cases, however, the evidence against a defendant will be overwhelming, and a conviction will be inevitable. In these cases, an Augusta theft attorney may be able to negotiate an acceptable plea bargain or arrange for alternative or reduced sentencing.

Do not let a theft conviction damage your future or take your freedom. If you’re facing any theft charge in the State of Georgia, obtaining the right defense attorney’s help – as quickly as possible – is your priority, and it is also your right.