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 Cobb 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 Cobb County.
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.
The penalties for shoplifting in Cobb 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 Cobb
After arrest, a case file is created with the Cobb County Solicitor General’s Office. They are responsible for prosecuting misdemeanor cases within Cobb 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 Cobb 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, Cobb 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.
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.