In Georgia, it is against the law to avoid payment of services, entertainment, accommodations, or the use of personal property. This is known as Theft of Services, found at O.C.G.A. § 16-8-5.
Examples of Theft of Services include utilizing a cleaning or lawn care company, and then not paying. Other service examples could be legal services, hair styling services, or accounting services. Simply put, it is against the law to use someone’s services and then avoid payment. Theft of services in Georgia also includes theft of utility services like water and electricity. In that situation, you can be charged with numerous crimes for tampering with electric or water meters.
In order for Theft of Services to be a criminal issue, thus potentially involving loss of liberty and a criminal history, the State must prove that the avoidance of payment was done by deception and with the intent to avoid the payment. Without deception and criminal intent, theft of services is more accurately defined as a civil or monetary legal issue, versus a criminal one. If the State is unable to prove deception or criminal intent to avoid the payment, there is a strong defense case for an acquittal. This is because civil courts are filled with people not paying other people back. In most instances, it is a contract issue. However, if there is the criminal intent to avoid payment and done so deceptively, the prosecuting attorney will bring the case to court.
So what is deception? Deception is defined in Georgia law for purposes of Theft of Services as providing knowingly false information to another with the intention to avoid payment. For example, Georgia law has held deception to be found when the suspect used a forged check to pay for lawn mower repair. In that situation, the State proved deception via the falsifying check as well as intention to avoid payment as the person never returned to make the payment.
What is the Punishment for Theft in Georgia?
- If Theft
of Services amount is:
- Less than $1,500: the maximum punishment is 12 months in jail and/or $1,000.
- $1,500.01 – $5,000: 1 to 5 years imprisonment
- $5,000.01 – $24,999.99: 1 to 10 years imprisonment
- $25,000 or more: 2 to 20 years imprisonment
Note that there is increased punishment if the theft involved a fiduciary in breach of a fiduciary obligation.
So long as the amount of theft is less than $25,000, the trial court actually has discretion to treat it as a misdemeanor. Misdemeanors, if convicted, carry less harsh sentences. Misdemeanors also do not require the forfeiture of civil rights (i.e. to carry a firearm or sit on a jury).
If you or a loved one has been arrested for Theft of Services, or any type of Theft case in Georgia, call us today for a FREE CONSULTATION at 404-581-0999.