Georgia’s New Second Chance Law – Misdemeanor Record Restriction (Expungement)

By: Mary Agramonte

A new expungement law is on the way, which will come as great news to the millions of Georgians who have a criminal history. Governor Kemp recently signed SB 288 into law after state leaders unanimously approved the bill. Georgia’s new “Second Chance Law” will become effective on January 1, 2021 providing Georgians with an opportunity to expunge certain misdemeanor cases, both a victory and a first in Georgia.

Georgia historically has not had favorable expungement laws on the books. Under current Georgia law, criminal convictions stay on a person’s record forever. Convictions never ‘age off’ no matter the time that has elapsed, or the strides made for rehabilitation. This places a staggering number of Georgians at a disadvantage for employment, housing, higher education, and other opportunities.

Georgia’s current law disallowing expungement has been troublesome for the hundreds of thousands of people who get caught up in our justice system each year. In fact, Georgia leads the nation, by far, in placing people on probation following conviction.  The United States Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that 433,200 people in Georgia were on probation at the end of 2018. According to Second Chance for Georgia (INSERT link: https://www.secondchancegeorgia.org/), 4.3 million people have a criminal record in Georgia. This means that an astounding 40% of Georgia’s adult population carry a criminal history through life, resulting in more than 1/3 of the State’s population having barriers to advancement in careers and other opportunities.

This new change in Georgia law will allow individuals to petition the court to have certain misdemeanor convictions restricted and sealed off their record after living a crime free life for four years. This is a process sometimes referred to as “expungement,” but is called “record restriction” in Georgia.  So long as a person has completed the terms of their sentence and has had no new convictions for at least four years, then SB 288 allows the individual to petition the Court to restrict the misdemeanor off their record.

Upon petition and a request for a hearing, the Court will conduct a balancing test to determine whether to restrict the misdemeanors off the criminal history. The hearing must take place within 90 days of the request. Under the new SB 288 law, the Court must grant the petition to restrict the criminal history records if it determines that the harm resulting to the individual clearly outweighs the public’s interest in the criminal history being publicly available. Factors such as the nature of crime, the loss of career opportunities, time elapsed since conviction, and proven rehabilitation will all become relevant inquiries for the Court.

Under SB 288, certain crimes will continue to be ineligible for record restriction in Georgia. This means that the following crimes cannot be expunged following a conviction:

  • Family Violence Assault and Battery
  • Family Violence Stalking
  • Hindering 911 call
  • Child Molestation or Enticing a child for indecent purposes
  • Public indecency
  • Pimping and pandering
  • Sexual Battery
  • Theft by Taking, Theft by Deception, Theft by Conversion
  • Serious Traffic Offenses (Reckless Driving, DUI, Homicide by Vehicle, Serious Injury by Vehicle, Fleeing or Attempting to Elude, and Aggressive Driving)

Crimes that will be eligible under the new law for potential record restriction include but are not limited to:

  • Possession of Marijuana
  • Possession of Drug Related Objects
  • Shoplifting
  • Non-Domestic Battery and Assault
  • Minor in Possession of Alcohol
  • Giving False Name, False Report, or False Statement
  • Criminal Trespass
  • Loitering
  • Terroristic Threats
  • Disorderly Conduct
  • Driving with a Suspended License

 

Some felonies are included in this expansion as well. For example, if someone has been convicted of a felony charge, but were issued a pardon, they too can petition a Judge to restrict and seal the charge off their record under the new law.

Who is eligible to petition the court for record restriction or expungement?

Anyone who was convicted of a misdemeanor crime, (other than the crimes explicitly exempt under the statute), and have had no new convictions in the past four years.

How many cases can I ask to be restricted?

Individuals will be allowed to petition the court for record restriction on two misdemeanor cases (a case can include multiple misdemeanor offenses under one accusation).

What happens if the Judge denies the request for record restriction?

You can request the record restriction again after waiting two years from the Judge’s denial.

How do I obtain record restriction under SB 288?

The new law requires you file a motion into the court you were convicted requesting the misdemeanor be restricted and expunged. A court order is required in order for your criminal history to be expunged under the new law.

Keep in mind that record restriction is not limited to misdemeanor convictions discussed in this blog under the new SB288 law and can be, at times, automatic. For example, if you were arrested after July 1, 2013, and the case against you was dismissed, or you were fully acquitted at trial, the charge will be automatically restricted when the clerk enters that disposition into the GCIC system. Arrests prior to July 1, 2013 that resulted in dismissal require a request and separate process for restrictions, but are eligible.

The best way to know what is on your criminal history is to request a copy of your GCIC under Purpose Code “E” from a local police department or sheriff’s office.  If you or a loved one is one of the millions of people carrying a criminal history through life in Georgia, the Second Chance law may come as a reprieve. The attorneys at W. Scott Smith are versed on all aspects of Georgia’s expungement and record restriction laws and are available for a FREE CONSULTATION by calling 404-581-0999.

Theft by Shoplifting in DeKalb County, Georgia

A shoplifting conviction is no small matter. It will negatively impact your ability to gain employment, apply for housing, and it will permanently remain on your criminal record. It is critical you contact an experienced attorney to investigate the facts, prepare legal challenges and defenses, and mitigate possible punishment. Our firm routinely handles shoplifting cases in DeKalb County State Court. This article means to explain the nature of shoplifting under Georgia law, the possible punishment, and how these matters are specifically handled in DeKalb County.

 

The Offense

 

Under O.C.G.A § 16-8-14, the offense of theft by shoplifting occurs when a person has the intent to either appropriate merchandise without paying for it or deprive the owner of possession of the merchandise or of its value AND:

 

  • Takes possession of or conceals the goods or merchandise of a store or retail establishment;
  • Alters the price marked on the goods or merchandise of a store or retail establishment;
  • Transfers the goods or merchandise of a store or retail establishment from its original box or container to another one;
  • Switches the price tag or label from one merchandise item with the price tag or label from another merchandise item; or
  • Wrongfully causes the amount paid for an item to be less than the merchant’s state price for the item

 

Arrest, formal criminal charges, and aggressive prosecution are all possibilities if you engage in the above conduct.

 

Punishment

 

The penalties for shoplifting in DeKalb County depend on the “value” of the property taken. A first shoplifting conviction involving the theft of merchandise valued at $500 or less is a misdemeanor. This is punishable by a fine up to $1,000 and incarceration for up to 12 months in jail, or both. Shoplifting offenses involving the theft of merchandise worth more than $500 are deemed felonies and can be punished by imprisonment for as long as ten years, depending on the total value of merchandise stolen.

 

It is important to note that a fourth or subsequent conviction for shoplifting is punished as a felony even though the prior convictions were all for misdemeanor shoplifting. Fourth or subsequent convictions are punishable by a prison sentence of one to ten years.

 

 

In addition to jail time and a fine, punishment may also include a psychological evaluation and treatment at their own expense, shoplifting seminars, community service, and restitution for the value of the property taken (if not returned).

 

How it Works in DeKalb

 

After arrest, a case file is created with the DeKalb County Solicitor General’s Office. They are responsible for prosecuting misdemeanor cases within DeKalb County. At first, the case will be “unaccused.” This simply means that no accusation has yet been filed on the case. An accusation is the official charging document for misdemeanors in Georgia. It is intended to provide notice to the accused of the charges, the dates of the offense, and information sufficient to place the defendant on notice of how to defend the case.

 

It is possible to resolve a theft by shoplifting charge prior to the filing of an accusation. Attorneys should contact the Solicitor General’s Office to see if they are eligible to be admitted into the DeKalb County Pre-Trial Diversion Program. If the accused successfully completes the diversion program, their charges will be dismissed with their records restricted.

 

Once a prosecutor reviews the file and believes there is at least probable cause to proceed upon, the accusation is filed and the case is formally “accused.” If accused and not eligible for diversion, the accused must begin preparing their case for a possible trial, subject to reaching a plea negotiation with the prosecutor. This includes investigating the case and gathering evidence. In our experience, DeKalb County prosecutors are largely unwilling to outright dismiss shoplifting charges. Therefore, defendants are typically confronted with deciding whether to take a no jail time plea deal to shoplifting or proceed to trial.

 

Contact Us

 

Being charged with Theft By Shoplifting can be a stressful event in anyone’s life.  At the Law Offices of W. Scott Smith, our lawyers are trained to explore the legal issues with every shoplifting case.  We are aware of all the possible options available to avoid jail time and to protect your criminal history and ultimately your privacy.   If you or a loved one has been charged with shoplifting, please contact our office today at 404-581-0999 for a free consultation.

 

 

 

 

 

Georgia Criminal Lawyer – Tampering with Evidence

There are several ways in which a person may “tamper with evidence” in Georgia. This article aims to explore the nature of the offense and the possible punishment if convicted.

The Offense

Under O.C.G.A. § 16-10-94, a person commits the offense of tampering with evidence when

  • with the intent to prevent the apprehension or cause the wrongful apprehension of any person or to obstruct the prosecution or defense of any person,
  • he knowingly destroys, alters, conceals, or disguises physical evidence or makes, devises, prepares, or plants false evidence.

Case Examples

Sufficient evidence for tampering with evidence: defendant threw envelope containing a forged check out the window of van in which he was riding as soon as traffic stop of van was instigated by police. Foster v. State, 311 Ga.App. 129 (2011).

Sufficient evidence to support two misdemeanor counts of tampering with evidence: defendant wiped the passenger side of the victim’s vehicle with a towel so as to alter or destroy physical evidence, and defendant bleached and washed his clothing to destroy, alter, and conceal physical evidence. Brown v. State, 288 Ga. 404 (2010).

Evidence was not sufficient to support conviction for tampering with evidence: police officers observed leafy substance in defendant’s mouth following physical struggle during a traffic stop; although officers testified they smelled burned marijuana on her person and that substance in her mouth was consistent with raw or fresh marijuana, officers did not see defendant place substance in her mouth, they did not attempt to recover substance from her mouth, and they did not command her to remove substance, and videotape of stop showed defendant repeatedly complying with officer’s request to open her mouth for inspection with flashlight.  King v. State, 317 Ga.App. 834 (2012).

Punishment

Felony Punishment

Tampering with evidence can be charged as a felony in two ways:

  • When a person tampers with evidence during the prosecution of a felony that involves another person. Here, the penalty is 1-3 years imprisonment; or
  • When a person tampers with evidence during the prosecution of a serious violent felony involving another person. In this situation, the penalty is 1-10 years imprisonment.

Misdemeanor Punishment

If the underlying charge was a misdemeanor or if you tamper with evidence in your own case (felony or misdemeanor), a tampering with evidence charge will result in a misdemeanor which is punishable by up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Contact Us

If you or someone you know is facing criminal prosecution, please contact our office today at 404-581-0999 for a free consultation. Our firm has specialized knowledge and experience in handling criminal cases in multiple jurisdictions across Georgia.

 

Georgia Criminal Law – Family Violence Battery in Rockdale County

A conviction for Family Violence Battery in Georgia can have consequences that go far beyond a conviction for other misdemeanors.   For some clients, this is their first interaction with law enforcement and their concerns include: jail time, a permanent mark on their criminal history , and the possibility of trial.   All of these concerns are very real when facing Family Violence Battery charges. This is especially true when charged with Family Violence Battery in Rockdale County. This jurisdiction has specifically allocated money and resources in aggressively prosecuting domestic violence charges.  This article aims to explain the nature of the offense, punishments, and how these cases are handled within Rockdale County.

 

The Offense

 

Georgia Criminal Code § 16-5-23.1 defines domestic violence (named “battery – family violence”) as whenever a battery, an intentional physical harm or visible bodily harm, is committed against “past or present spouses, persons who are parents of the same child, parents and children, stepparents and stepchildren, foster parents and foster children, or other persons living or formerly living in the same household.”

 

Therefore, in order to be charged with Family Violence Battery, the alleged victim must be within a certain relationship of the defendant:

 

  • A spouse
  • Persons who are parents of the same child
  • Children
  • Step-Children
  • Foster Children
  • Other persons living in the same household (roommates)

 

Punishment

 

A first conviction for Family Violence Battery is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of 12 months in custody and a $1,000 fine.  A second or subsequent conviction with the same family member (as classified above) or another family member results in a felony conviction with a maximum penalty of five years in prison.  O.C.G.A. § 16-5-23.1

 

While a first lifetime conviction of Family Violence Battery appears to be just a misdemeanor, there are several collateral consequences unknown to most people.  For example, because Georgia’s classification of Family Violence Battery falls within the Federal definition of “domestic violence,” a Georgia citizen who is convicted of Family Violence Battery is prohibited from possessing a firearm under Federal Law.

 

Furthermore, while the maximum penalty includes 12 months in custody and a $1,000 fine, many judges throughout the State will also require individuals convicted of Family Violence Battery to serve time on probation (in lieu of jail time), but with the conditions of completing a domestic violence program.  These programs go by several different names (usually Domestic Violence Intervention Program – DVIP), but they generally include 24 weeks of classes, counseling, and program fees that are not included in the fine ordered by the judge.  In addition, judges can add community service, counseling requirements, fines, and alcohol and drug evaluations.  It is important to know that your attorney can negotiate all of these things.

 

How it Works in Rockdale

 

The first step after arrest is getting a bond. If charged with misdemeanor Family Violence Battery, the law provides you shall be given a bond (in all misdemeanor cases).  But, in addition to having to pay bail money to bond out, the judge will also typically impose a No Contact provision as a condition of your pre-trial release. For example, in a case where a husband is accused of battering his wife, and the couple have minor children who live with them, a judge will usually order the defendant to have No Contact with the wife (alleged victim), the children, and be prevented from returning to the shared home. This No Contact provision places a great burden and strain on the accused as a violation of this bond condition (any form of contact, direct or indirect) can land the accused person in custody until the case is resolved. Therefore, the accused has to find alternative living arrangements and be estranged from their family.

 

As a result, our office routinely files a Motion to Modify Bond Conditions to change the No Contact provision to No Violent or Harassing Contact. This will allow the accused to return home and have contact with the alleged victim and anyone else protected under the bond order; allowing the accused to return to some semblance of a normal lifestyle.

 

After arrest, a case file is created with the Rockdale County Solicitor General’s Office. They are responsible for prosecuting misdemeanor cases within Rockdale County. At first, the case will be “unaccused.” This simply means that no accusation has yet been filed on the case. An accusation is the official charging document for misdemeanors in Georgia. It is intended to provide notice to the accused of the charges, the dates of the offense, and information sufficient to place the defendant on notice of how to defend the case. An experienced attorney should periodically check to see whether the case has been accused prior to arraignment.

 

It is possible to resolve a Family Violence Battery charge prior to the filing of an accusation. Attorneys should contact the Solicitor General’s Office to see if they are eligible to be admitted into the Rockdale County Domestic Violence Pre-Trial Intervention Program. If the accused successfully completes the DVPTI program, their charges will be dismissed with their records restricted.

 

Once a prosecutor reviews the file and believes there is at least probable cause to proceed upon, the accusation is filed and the case is formally “accused.” If accused and not eligible for DVPTI, the accused must begin preparing their case for a possible trial, subject to reaching a plea negotiation with the prosecutor. This includes investigating the case and gathering evidence. In our experience, Rockdale County prosecutors are largely unwilling to outright dismiss Family Violence Battery charges. Therefore, defendants are typically confronted with deciding whether to take a no jail time plea deal to Family Violence Battery or proceed to trial.

 

Rockdale County State Court prosecutors will often include multiple counts of Battery, Simple Battery, and Family Violence Battery within the accusation.  Unfortunately, many people go to court on their first court date, without exploring the consequences of a Family Violence Battery conviction, and enter a plea.  Whether the person committed the acts alleged or they simply just want to put this chapter of their life behind them, even though they’re innocent, it’s vital to consult with an attorney.  At the very least, an attorney can discuss the implications of being convicted of Family Violence Battery.

 

Contact Us

 

Being charged with Family Violence Battery can be a stressful event in anyone’s life.  At the Law Offices of W. Scott Smith, our lawyers are trained to explore the legal issues with every Family Violence Battery case.  We are aware of all the possible options available to avoid jail time and to protect your criminal history and ultimately your privacy.   If you or a loved one has been charged with Family Violence Battery, please contact our office today at 404-581-0999 for a free consultation.

 

 

Georgia Criminal Law – Party to a Crime

This blog serves to explore this fundamental question: Who can be charged with a criminal offense?

The Offense

O.C.G.A. § 16-2-20(a) provides, every person “concerned in the commission of a crime” is a party thereto and may be charged with and convicted of commission of the crime.

What does it mean to be “concerned in the commission of a crime”?

O.C.G.A. § 16-2-20(b) states a person is concerned in the commission of a crime only if he:

(1) Directly commits the crime;

(2) Intentionally causes some other person to commit the crime under such circumstances that the other person is not guilty of any crime either in fact or because of legal incapacity;

(3) Intentionally aids or abets in the commission of the crime; or

(4) Intentionally advises, encourages, hires, counsels, or procures another to commit the crime.

Therefore, under Georgia law, a person may be convicted of a crime even if he or she does not directly commit the crime, but is instead a party to the crime. Demps v. State, 337 Ga.App. 657 (2016). To be convicted as a party to a crime, there must be proof, beyond a reasonable doubt, that he or she intentionally aided or abetted the commission of the crime, or intentionally advised, encouraged, hired, counseled, or procured another to commit the crime. Lonon v. State, 348 Ga.App. 527 (2019).

Importantly, all of the participants in a plan to commit a crime are criminally responsible for the acts of each other, committed in the execution of the plan, and which may be said to be a probable consequence of the unlawful design, even though the particular act may not have actually been a part of the plan. Cisneros v. State, 299 Ga. 841, (2016). For example, if Bob, Joe, and Rob all agree to rob a bank, and during the robbery Rob spontaneously kills a bank teller, both Bob and Joe could be convicted of murder because they are a party to the crime.

Whether a person is a party to a crime may be inferred from that person’s presence, companionship, and conduct before, during, and after the crime. Harper v. State, 298 Ga. 158 (2015). Other examples include:

  • Serving as the getaway driver in an armed robbery.
  • Turning off the alarm system of a store in where you work, knowing that it will be robbed later that day.
  • Providing a firearm to someone who you know is planning to commit a crime.
  • Directing a vehicle to a location where you know an armed carjacker is waiting.

But, mere presence at the scene of a crime and mere approval of the criminal act are not sufficient evidence to establish that the defendant was a party to the crime.  Garcia v. State, 290 Ga.App. 164 (2008).

Contact Us

If you or someone you know is facing criminal prosecution, please contact our office today at 404-581-0999 for a free consultation. Our firm has specialized knowledge and experience in handling criminal cases in multiple jurisdictions across Georgia.

Armed Robbery in Atlanta/Fulton County, Georgia

By: Mary Agramonte

            Armed Robbery occurs when someone takes property from someone by use of a weapon, device, or a replica weapon. It is treated seriously under Georgia law in that it is a “capital felony.” A capital felony is a crime that is punishable by life or death in the State of Georgia. This blog lays out the criminal justice process for someone who has been arrested for Armed Robbery in Fulton County.

            The first thing that happens after someone is arrested for Armed Robbery in Fulton County is that they will see judge in their First Appearance hearing. This typically occurs within 48-72 hours of the person being arrested, depending on whether or not there was an arrest warrant., and it occurs at the Fulton County Jail at 901 Rice Street in Atlanta. At the First Appearance hearing, a Fulton County Magistrate Judge will read the charges to the suspect, as well as inform them of their right to counsel and right to remain silent. In some types of cases, bond can be considered at a First Appearances hearing. However, in Armed Robbery cases, the procedure is different. This is because only Superior Court Judges can hear bond arguments for the crime of Armed Robbery. This means unless the First Appearance Judge is “sitting in designation” then a bond will not be set or considered at the onset of arrest at the initial hearing.

Following the arrest and First Appearance hearing in Armed Robbery case in Fulton County, an attorney will need to file a request for a Probable Cause and Bond hearing. This hearing will determine whether or not there is enough evidence to even prosecute you for Armed Robbery. If there is not, the charges can get thrown out at this stage. If the Judge does find probable cause that an Armed Robbery had occurred and you were the person who did it, or was a party to it, then the Judge “binds the case over to Superior Court” since that is the court with jurisdiction to proceed over the case. Once in the Fulton County Superior Court, the Judge can consider whether or not to release the person on bond.

The court may release a person on bond if the court finds that the person:

(1) Poses no significant risk of fleeing from the jurisdiction of the court or failing to appear in court when required;

(2) Poses no significant threat or danger to any person, to the community, or to any property in the community;

(3) Poses no significant risk of committing any felony pending trial; and

(4) Poses no significant risk of intimidating witnesses or otherwise obstructing the administration of justice.

These are known as the Ayala factors in Georgia based after the case that laid out our standards in bond determination. Ayala v. State, 262 Ga. 704 (1993).

If a bond is granted, there may be certain conditions attached. For example, the Judge may order you to have a curfew, or stay away from the alleged victim in this case.

The Armed Robbery case will then proceed with an Indictment, and later an Arraignment court date where a Not Guilty plea is entered and Motions are filed on. Throughout the case, your defense attorney will engage in Plea Negotiations with prosecutors from the Fulton County District Attorney Office. During this process, the defense attorney will do intensive investigation to the facts and defenses of the case and represent client’s interests zealously.

There are several defenses to Armed Robbery cases in Fulton County and throughout the State. First, if you were only present at the time it occurred, and you did not share the same criminal mentality of the co-defendants, then you cannot be guilty of Armed Robbery.  Simply being there when an armed robbery occurs is not a crime. The State still has to prove criminal intent beyond a reasonable doubt.

You can be charged with Armed Robbery as being a Party to a crime law in Georgia means that you can be convicted and sentenced as if you directly committed the crime- even if you did not directly commit the crime.  You can be charged with Party to a Crime to Armed Robbery if you:

1. Commit the crime

2. Intentionally aid or abet in the commission of the crime;

3. Intentionally advises, encourages, or counsels another to commit the crime.

This means you can be charged, convicted, and sentenced to Armed Robbery in Fulton County if the State proves you encouraged the person to commit the crime, or if you provided them with the weapon, whether it be fake or not. All of this must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, a very high standard in our Justice system.

Sentencing in Armed Robbery

As previously discussed, the stakes are high in Armed Robbery given a life or death sentence is allowed in Georgia law. Additionally, it has a mandatory minimum sentence of 10-20 years in prison. This is why it is imperative to move quickly in obtaining an Armed Robbery attorney early on to establish defenses and thoroughly investigate the case. The lawyers of W. Scott Smith are available 24/7 to answer you questions via a FREE CONSULTATION on Armed Robbery charges in Fulton County and throughout the State. 404-581-0999

Yes, Criminal Cases are Still Moving Forward in Georgia during COVID-19

You may have received a traffic citation, or a citation for misdemeanor possession of marijuana or theft by shoplifting. The officer may have released you on citation instead of taking you to a local detention facility for arrest. This doesn’t mean your case should be ignored, or is not a big deal, now. Cases are being heard in most municipal courts in the State. In fact, many municipalities and counties may ask you to come in and provide fingerprints at a later date when conditions are more safe.

In the past week, our firm has been present for shoplifting, DUI, and marijuana cases in Roswell, Marietta, Acworth, Kennesaw, Douglasville, Sandy Springs, Jonesboro, Forest Park, and many other municipal courts across the state.

Having an attorney represent you at this time can prevent you from having to appear and potentially risk your health. An attorney can also work with the prosecutor to try and get you the best possible outcomes during this time, working on lowering fines, reducing community service, and preventing other activities that may put you at risk for coronavirus exposure.

Our office is available right now to discuss your case with you. Call us at 404-581-0999 for a free consultation. We understand you may be feeling nervous or scared during these uncertain times, and we are here to help.  

Recidivist Statute and Three Strikes Rule in Georgia Criminal Law

A felony conviction has serious consequences. Punishment for a felony offense typically includes prison time, probation, fines, loss of constitutional rights and privileges, and a lifelong blemish on the person’s criminal record. Not only does a felony conviction impact the person’s ability to obtain employment and housing, but, under O.C.G.A. § 17-10-7, a prior felony conviction can be used to enhance a sentence on a new felony conviction. This article serves to explore the “Repeat Offenders” statute dealing with recidivist sentencing and Georgia’s ‘three strikes’ rule.  

O.C.G.A. § 17-10-7 (a) – Recidivist Provision

If someone has one prior felony conviction and they are convicted of a felony a second time, the judge must to sentence the offender to the maximum term of imprisonment as set out in the statute they’ve been convicted of. However, the judge does have the discretion to probate or suspend that maximum sentence. Furthermore, in order to obtain a recidivist sentence under 17-10-7, the State must give the defendant clear notice before trial of its intention to seek such a sentence; the State must also prove that the prior conviction was for a crime which, if committed within Georgia, would be a felony.  Wheeler v. State, 270 Ga.App. 363 (2004).

O.C.G.A. § 17-10-7 (c) – Three Strikes Rule  

Any person who has been convicted of three felonies and commits a felony within Georgia shall, upon conviction for such fourth offense or for subsequent offenses, serve the maximum time provided for the sentence. The judge will not be able to reduce the sentence, the offender will not be eligible for parole until the maximum sentence has been served, and early release is unavailable. A person sentenced under the Three Strikes Rule will have to serve every day of the imposed sentence.

Contact Us

If you or a loved one is facing criminal prosecution, as a recidivist or not, please contact our office today at 404-581-0999 for a free consultation. Our firm has specialized knowledge and experience in handling criminal cases in multiple jurisdictions across Georgia.

Georgia Criminal Law – Criminal Damage to Property

There are several laws in Georgia intended to protect property in the interest of human life and safety. This blog article serves to explore the nature of these offenses and discuss the possible punishment if convicted.  

Criminal Damage to Property in the First Degree

O.C.G.A. § 16-7-22 defines the offense as when a person:

(1) Knowingly and without authority interferes with any property in a manner so as to endanger human life; or

(2) Knowingly and without authority and by force or violence interferes with the operation of any system of public communication, public transportation, sewerage, drainage, water supply, gas, power, or other public utility service or with any constituent property thereof.

Criminal damage to property in the first degree is a crime against the State involving the unauthorized interference with property in a manner that endangers human life. The phrase requiring defendant’s interference with the property be done “in a manner so as to endanger human life” means reckless endangerment rather than actual endangerment. As a result, successful prosecution of this offense does not require proof that the person actually injured the owner of the property. Furthermore, the State does not have to prove value or legal title of the property. It is enough the prosecution prove the person had a legal right to possess or occupy the property that was damaged. Some examples of this offense includes: firing gunshots into an apartment, dwelling, or vehicle, setting fire to a building, and throwing a rock at vehicle from overpass. It is important to note that this offense may serve as the basis for felony murder.

Any person convicted of this offense is guilty of a felony and may be imprisoned between 1 and 10 years.

Criminal Damage to Property in the Second Degree

O.C.G.A. § 16-7-23 provides, [a] person commits the offense of criminal damage to property in the second degree when he:

(1) Intentionally damages any property of another person without his consent and the damage thereto exceeds $500.00; or

(2) Recklessly or intentionally, by means of fire or explosive, damages property of another person.

Criminal damage to property in second degree is a general intent crime, which requires only a general intent to do the act, i.e., damaging another person’s property. Under section (1), the value of property is required to be proven and the value has to be greater than $500. In assessing value, the focus is on the value of the tangible item itself, not the total expenses of the owner in connection with property damage. Value does not have to be proven, however, if charged under section (2).

A person convicted of criminal damage to property in the second degree is guilty of a felony and may be imprisoned for 1 to 5 years.

Contact Us

If you or a loved one are facing criminal prosecution, please contact our office today at 404-581-0999 for a free consultation. Our firm has specialized knowledge and experience in handling Criminal Damage to Property cases in multiple jurisdictions across Georgia.

Georgia Criminal Law – Auto Theft Offenses

Georgia has several laws dealing with the theft of motor vehicles. This article serves to explain the nature of the offenses, possible punishment if convicted, and defenses to such charges.

Carjacking

Under O.C.G.A. § 16-5-44.1, a person commits the offense of vehicle hijacking when they take a car from another person by force and violence or intimidation, while in the possession of a firearm or weapon.

A person convicted of motor vehicle hijacking faces a 10 to 20 years imprisonment, and a fine ranging from $10,000 to $100,000. For a second conviction for carjacking, the new conviction results in a life in prison sentence plus a fine ranging from $100,000 to $500,000. It is not necessary that the defendant committed the prior carjacking in Georgia in order to receive a life sentence.

Motor Vehicle Theft

Unlike the above carjacking statute, there is no specific offense related to the nonviolent theft of an automobile. Rather, an individual who commits a nonviolent auto theft may be charged with “theft by taking” which O.C.G.A. 16-8-2, which makes it a crime for a person to “unlawfully take or, being in lawful possession thereof, unlawfully appropriate any property of another with the intention of depriving the owner of the property, regardless of the manner in which the property is taken or appropriated.”

As we can see, a person may be charged with theft by taking regardless of whether they took the property with or without permission of the owner, so long as the person takes the property with the intent to deprive the owner of the property. A common example of the former is when a person takes a vehicle with the permission of the owner, but then fails to return the vehicle to the owner.

This situation is also similar to the offense of “theft by conversion” which occurs when, being in legal possession of another’s property pursuant to an agreement (such as a lease or other rental agreement), converts the property to the person’s own use, in violation of the agreement. This is not a breach of contract issue but rather the punishment of depriving the owner of their property.

Punishment for Motor Vehicle Theft

O.C.G.A. § 16-8-12 provides sentencing guidelines for a defendant convicted of nonviolent motor vehicle theft, regardless of whether the defendant has been convicted of theft by taking or theft by conversion. The law creates different levels of punishment based upon the type of vehicle stolen.

Vehicles Used in Commercial Transportation of Cargo

O.C.G.A. § 16-8-12 (a)(8) provides, a person convicted of stealing a vehicle engaged in commercial transportation of cargo faces a minimum of 3 years imprisonment and a maximum of 10 years in addition to a fine of $5,000 to $50,000. A sentencing judge has the authority to place the defendant on probation or suspend the sentence in lieu of prison time. Furthermore, if the defendant has a commercial driver’s license (CDL), a conviction for commercial vehicle theft will cause a loss of their CDL.

Non-commercial Vehicles

If the vehicle at issue was not engaged in commercial transportation of cargo, the offense is punished based on the value of the vehicle. Pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 16-8-12 (a)(1), if the vehicle is valued at:

$1,500.01 to $5,000: 1-5 years in prison

$5,000 to $25,000: 1-10 years in prison, and

$25,000 or more: 2-20 years in prison

Interestingly, a sentencing judge has the ability to punish the offense as a misdemeanor, regardless of the value of the property. The maximum penalty for a misdemeanor conviction is one (1) year in jail and $1,000 fine, or both.  

Joy Riding

Georgia law prohibits joy riding under the criminal trespass statute rather then a specialized joy riding statute. Joyriding is commonly defined as the taking or driving someone else’s vehicle without their permission. Examples can include children taking their parent’s car or valets or mechanics driving the owners car without their permission. The key difference between joyriding and theft is the degree of intent. Joyriding does not require proof the person intended to deprive the owner of the vehicle permanently. Under O.C.G.A. § 16-7-21, a person commits criminal trespass by entering another person’s vehicle for an unlawful purpose or enters the vehicle of another after having been previously forbidden from doing so by the owner. Typically, joyriding is punished as a misdemeanor. It may, however, be punished as a felony if the defendant fails to return the vehicle after a significant period of time, the defendant intends to use the vehicle to commit a crime, or if the defendant damages the vehicle while joyriding.

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