Written by attorney Ernest Dewitt Napier III

Theft by Shoplifting - What to do?

What is Theft by Shoplifting?

If you or someone you know has been charged with Theft by Shoplifting, then you need to know some basics. Please be aware that these are just the basics. The official code section is O.C.G.A. § 16-8-14.

Georgia Definition of Theft by Shoplifting

A person commits the offense of theft by shoplifting when he alone or in concert with another person, with the intent of appropriating merchandise to his 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:

(1)Conceals or takes possession of the goods or merchandise of any store or retail establishment;

(2) Alters the price tag or other price marking on goods or merchandise of any store or retail establishment;

(3) Transfers the goods or merchandise of any store or retail establishment from one container to another;

(4) Interchanges the label or price tag from one item of merchandise with a label or price tag for another item of merchandise; or

(5) Wrongfully causes the amount paid to be less than the merchant's stated price for the merchandise.

Most convictions are obtained based upon (1) above. It is important to realize that a person does not have to actually take the merchandise out of the store in order to be charged.

Punishment for Theft by Shoplifting

If the property allegedly stolen is less than $300 in value, then the offense is a simple misdemeanor and the max punishment is one year of confinement and a $1000 fine. If the property value is $300 or more, the offense is a felony and the possible sentence is a maximum of 10 years.

Finally, a fourth shoplifting offense is automatically treated as a felony regardless of the property value.

Possible Defenses to Theft by Shoplifting

This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of all possible defenses. Every situation is unique and must be considered based upon the facts associated with the specific case. Having said that, here are some things to consider.

  1. Not me – you got the wrong guy (or gal).
  2. I was going to pay. (Read the cases below)
  3. The property does not cost $300. (for felony cases)
  4. Mistake – I didn’t realize I didn’t pay for that.

Interesting Cases concerning Theft by Shoplifting

Racquemore v. State, 204 Ga. App. 88, 418 S.E.2d 448 (1992) - The state proved the element of intent to appropriate the merchandise for defendant's own use, where defendant was seen stuffing two packages of meat into the waist of defendant's trousers and pulling defendant's shirt down over them, but returned the meat to the display case after the store security guard and store manager started watching defendant's actions and following defendant.

Taylor v. State, 270 Ga. App. 637, 607 S.E.2d 163 (2004) - Because a co-manager of a grocery store saw defendant, who was pushing a shopping cart, take a package of ham hocks and some tomatoes and place them in defendant's purse, and when defendant approached the checkout counter, the co-manager confronted defendant and defendant retreated into the store and discarded the two items on a display, the evidence was sufficient to support a shoplifting conviction; the question of whether defendant's placement of the goods in the purse showed an intent to commit theft by shoplifting was one for the jury and the conviction was affirmed.

Simmons v. State, 278 Ga. App. 372, 629 S.E.2d 86 (2006) - Defendant's act of concealing liquor bottles in the defendant's pants, with no intent to pay for them, despite the fact that the defendant put the bottles back on the shelf before leaving the store, was sufficient to support a conviction.

What should I do?

Hire an attorney. A conviction, even if it is a misdemeanor, can have life altering consequences. Often, other resolutions are available such as pretrial diversion. However, these other alternatives are not always available without the proper legal counsel.

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