Georgia Criminal Law – Theft by Conversion, or Embezzlement

A common element across all theft crimes is the act of taking, obtaining, converting, or appropriating the property of another. But, absent this similarity, several distinct theft crimes exist under the large umbrella of theft crimes generally, such as: theft by taking, theft by deception, fraud, and theft by shoplifting, robbery, and theft by conversion. This aims to explain the crime of theft by conversion (commonly referred to as “embezzlement”), the punishment, and defenses.

The Offense

Theft by conversion occurs when the defendant, after lawfully receiving funds from another under an agreement to make a specified application of them, knowingly puts the money to his own use in violation of the agreement. O.C.G.A. § 16-8-4(a).

The statute also contains a provision applying to government workers and officers of financial institutions, “[w]hen, under subsection (a) of this Code section, an officer or employee of a government or of a financial institution fails to pay on an account, upon lawful demand, from the funds or property of another held by him, he is presumed to have intended to convert the funds or property to his own use.” O.C.G.A. § 16-8-4(b). This section ensures government and banking actors will act wisely with money entrusted to them by the public.

The stated purpose of the theft by conversion statute is to punish and deter fraudulent conversion, not mere breaches of contract or broken promises. That being said, the terms of the agreement are critical in determining whether an accused converted funds of another from a directed purpose to his own use. 

What separates theft by conversion from other theft crimes is that in theft by conversion the person accused comes into possession of the property lawfully, whereas in other theft crimes, the person accused obtains property secretly and unlawfully. In theft by conversion there is some form of entrustment.

Case Examples

Evidence that defendant did not return nor continue making rental payments on two televisions was sufficient to support determination that defendant converted televisions to her own use; defendant violated rental agreements’ obligations to make payments or return televisions to rental center, defendant moved televisions to another address without center’s knowledge or consent in violation of agreements, and center’s owner testified that each television had a retail market value of $649.87.  Williams v. State, 328 Ga.App. 898 (2014).

Evidence that defendant failed to return rented wood chipper to store, lied to store regarding his address and phone number, and moved to another country and assumed an alias after store management swore out a warrant for his arrest was sufficient to establish that defendant acted with criminal intent, as required to support conviction for theft by conversion. Terrell v. State, 275 Ga.App. 501 (2005).

Evidence was insufficient to support conviction for theft by conversion, in prosecution arising out of incident in which customer left van with defendant, a mechanic, for repair and van was not returned; there was no evidence that mechanic drove the van, that he cannibalized it for spare parts, or that he used it for any other purposes, except to perform work upon it, there was no evidence that defendant did anything to conceal the whereabouts of the van from the customer or keep her from possessing it, there was no evidence that defendant had anything to do with eventual disposal of van, and defendant did not attempt to flee. Thomas v. State, 308 Ga.App. 331 (2011).

Interestingly, the theft by conversion statute has been held unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Georgia. In Sherrod v. State, 280 Ga. 275 (2006), the Court held the mandatory presumption contained in statute setting forth offense of theft by conversion of leased property that proof that demand letter was properly sent to lessee and that property was not returned within five days established guilt of offense, was unconstitutional, as it subverted presumption of innocence accorded to accused persons and invaded truth-finding task assigned solely to fact-finder.  

Punishment

Whether theft by conversion will be punished as a misdemeanor or felony depends on the value of the money or property stolen. If the value is less than $500, the offense will be charged as a misdemeanor. If the value exceeds $500, the offense will be charged as a felony. Misdemeanor theft by conversion is punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a $1,000 fine, or both. Felony theft by conversion is punishable by no less than one year in prison and no more than ten years imprisonment. In addition to imprisonment and fines, the court may also impose restitution as part of the sentence.

If the property is not returned, the court will use the following guidelines to assess the value of the stolen goods:

  • The market value of the property, determined by obtaining a quote from a supplier who sells property of similar character and value (the higher value of the date the conversion occurred versus the value on the date of trial)
  • Rental charges; and
  • Interest on unpaid balances at the legal rates until the debtor pays the converted funds

Defenses

  • No intent: the State has to prove the accused person converted the property for their own use knowingly and with fraudulent intent. If there is not such intent, the person cannot be convicted.
  • Consent: if the property owner gave the accused person permission to convert the property for the accused person’s own use, evidence of consent (email, text, letter) would provide strong support for the defense.
  • The property was used as intended: evidence indicating the property was used in a way contemplated by the agreement would also strongly aid the defense of a theft by conversion charge. There must be an action or statement showing the person accused intended to claim or use the property as their own.
  • Value: the State must prove value at trial. If the weight of the evidence attempting to prove value, then an essential element of the charge has not been met, and the accused person cannot be convicted.
  • Returning the property is not a defense: the fact an embezzler settled their debt or default does not destroy the criminality of the act. McCoy v. State, 15 Ga. 205 (1854).

Contact Us

If you or someone you know has been arrested and charged with theft by conversion, contact the law firm of W. Scott Smith at 404.581.0999 for a free case evaluation. You’ll a local Atlanta attorney ready to aggressively fight on your behalf.

Robbery v. Theft by Shoplifting

My last two robbery blogs discussed robbery by force and robbery by sudden snatching. Both contemplate the taking of someone’s property from their person or immediate presence. Moreover, both require that the victim be aware of the theft before it’s completed. The main difference, of course, is one does not require force, aka snatching.

But what about robbery by force or sudden snatching in a retail business?

I once represented someone accused of robbery by force for taking a case of beer from the refrigerator of a gas station without paying for it. The gas station employees attempted to stop my client from taking the beer. They blocked the exit and tried to pry the beer from his hand. With the case of beer tucked under one arm, he used the other to hit and push both employees to the ground. He then walked out of the store with the beer and drove away.

Robbery or Shoplifting?

I recall initially thinking this is shoplifting, not robbery. But I could not have been more wrong. First, let’s think about immediate presence. Like I mentioned in my last blog, immediate presence is not limited to “within arm’s length” or “facing the victim”. There is case law stating property is within the immediate presence of a shop keeper if it’s within the retail space (see Sweet v. State, 304 Ga.App. 474, 697 S.E.2d 246 (2010)).

As I’ve discussed before, the shopkeepers must be aware of the taking before it is complete. In my beer case, the beer was taken from the shopkeeper’s immediate presence (because it was in their retail space) AND they were aware of the taking before it was complete. Finally, my client used force to fend off the shopkeepers and complete the taking of the beer. The elements of robbery by force were all checked off.

A Different Order of Events

Now, let’s pretend the shopkeeper did not realize he was stealing the beer until the very moment he walked out the store exit? Theft by taking or shoplifting? I think a prosecutor in this scenario could make an argument for theft by sudden snatching because the shopkeeper is aware of the theft before it’s complete and property was removed from the shopkeeper’s immediate presence.

If you or someone you know has been charged with robbery contact our office today for a free consultation.

Entering an Automobile: Theft and More

Entering an Automobile in Georgia

Entering an automobile is a theft crime under Georgia law. It is defined as the entering of any automobile or other motor vehicle with the intent to commit a theft or felony.

Usually, people under indictment for this offense are accused of breaking into cars to steal property. The State does not have to prove they actually stole anything, just that they had the intent to steal property when entering into the car.

But it was my own car?

Interestingly enough, a person can be charged with entering into their own vehicle to commit a theft or felony. The State does not have to establish lack of authority to enter a car because the statute makes no distinction between authorized and unauthorized entry.

This means you, as a defendant, could be accused of Entering an Automobile if the State alleges you entered your own car with the intent to, say, steal the laptop your friend left in your car. Once again, the State would not have to prove you actually stole the laptop, only that you intended to commit steal it.

Remember the law defines Entering an Automobile as entering a car with the intent to commit a theft or felony. This would contemplate a scenario in which someone entering a car (either their own or someone else’s) to commit rape, murder, aggravated assault, etc.

What’s My Defense?

The law defines Entering by Automobile as a felony or a misdemeanor at the judge’s discretion. This is important because it means your attorney, in the context of a negotiated plea, can (and should) ask the judge for misdemeanor sentencing, thus allowing you to avoid felony conviction (or wasting your first offender on what could’ve been a misdemeanor).

If you or someone you know has been charged with entering an automobile contact our office today for a free consultation.

by Sarah Armstrong

Shoplifting in Georgia Part III

Welcome to the third entry in a multi-part blog series about misdemeanor shoplifting in Georgia. We discussed what constitutes shoplifting under Georgia law, what to expect in court after you’ve been arrested for shoplifting, and what sentence you may receive if you either plead guilty or are found guilty of shoplifting (fingers crossed for a Diversion offer from the State).

Civil Demand Letters

Today I want to talk about Civil Demand Letters. Let’s say you have been accused of shoplifting from Wal Mart. You bonded out of jail and hired the Law Office of Scott Smith to defend you, so you’re feeling relieved and hopeful about resolving your case.

Then one day, soon after your arrest, you receive a letter in the mail from Wal Mart’s Corporate Loss Prevention Office. The letter is about the shoplifting accusation. In strongly-worded terms, it says Wal Mart is prepared to seek civil judgement against you in the monetary amount of the item (or items) you’re accused of stealing.

Scared and confused, you call your attorney at Scott Smith’s Office. After all, your attorney is taking care of the shoplifting so why is Wal Mart even contacting you? This is a scenario I handle frequently with clients accused of shoplifting. And it’s a confusing one. That’s because shoplifting charges exist in the worlds of both criminal and civil law.

What Does This Mean?

The State of Georgia can pursue criminal charges against you for (allegedly) shoplifting from Wal Mart. Criminal charges contemplate the deprivation of your freedom, meaning the worst-case scenario would be going to jail.  At the same time, Wal Mart, as a civil plaintiff, can sue you for damages (the idea being they suffered a financial loss from you stealing their merchandise). Unlike criminal charges, civil damages are for money. So Wal Mart would sue you for the cost of the item(s) you’re accused of stealing. Even more confusing, Wal Mart can sue you for the cost of the item(s) you allegedly stole even if they got the item back, or even if the item never left the store.

Often, these strongly-worded, bullying letters make a scary situation for my clients even scarier. But I’m here to tell you not to worry.

Do Not Worry

In a shoplifting case, your main concern is the criminal charge. With Scott Smith’s Office representing you, your criminal charge will easily be resolved. Wal Mart can, indeed, take action to sue you for monetary damages in the amount of the item you allegedly stole. But in the 18 years this office has existed (and in my two years of practicing criminal law), we have never seen a big store like Wal Mart actually sue for civil damages. That’s partially because the filing fee alone (to file suit in court) is more than the amount of money they’d win at trial.

Essentially, stores like Wal Mart send these letters in an effort to intimate people into paying them money. Moreover, some of my clients have responded to the letters by sending money thinking that doing so will resolve their case, not realizing the criminal charge has nothing to do with the civil demand letter.

What Do I Do?

In these situations I advise my clients that I will call the corporate loss prevention office to tell them my client is represented by counsel. That way all letters are sent to me rather than my client (which eases a lot of stress). I also advise my client not to pay the money demanded in the letters. This is important to defending your case, as the State could use that payment as an admission of guilt against you at trial. Finally, note that stores like Wal Mart only have two years to file suit against you for civil damages suffered as a result of your alleged shoplifting.

If you or someone you know has received a civil demand letter contact our office today for a free consultation.

by Sarah Armstrong 

How Do I Get Out of the City of Atlanta Jail?

by Ryan Walsh

You’ve been arrested in the City of Atlanta. You’re in the back of the patrol car and being transported to Atlanta Pre-Trial Detention Center. What do you do?

First, do not make any statements to the police while you are being transported to the Atlanta Pre-Trial Detention Center.

Second, do not make any statements about the facts of your case to anyone at the Atlanta Pre-Trial Detention Center. This is not the time to plead your innocence. Your sole focus should be on getting out on bond.

You’ve been taken to the Atlanta Pre-Trial Detention Center because your case is going to be beginning in the City of Atlanta Municipal Court. The City of Atlanta Municipal Court has jurisdiction (or responsibility) in handling all traffic offenses, some state law misdemeanors including possession of marijuana, theft by shoplifting, and disorderly conduct; and all City of Atlanta ordinance violations.

You are entitled to a bond on all of these charges. Your bond will be set after first appearing in front of a Judge in most circumstances. City of Atlanta holds first appearance hearings Sunday through Friday. They do not hold first appearance hearings on Saturday, so if you’ve been arrested after first appearance on Friday, you may have to wait until Sunday to go in front of the Judge to get a bond.

The City of Atlanta Judge is required to consider four factors when setting a bond.

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

There are several types of bonds available for your case.

  1. Cash Bond: The first option in the City of Atlanta is to pay a cash bond. This means that you pay the entire bond yourself. The benefit to this bond is that it is refundable to you once you resolve your case.
  2. Bail Bondsman: The second option is to call a bonding company. You will pay between 10% – 15% of the total bond to the bonding company. The bonding company will then post the entire bond and you will be released. This 10% – 15% is non-refundable. The City of Atlanta jail will provide you with a list of approved bonding companies.
  3. Signature Bond: In certain circumstances you will be released on Signature bond. A signature bond means you are signing your own bond, promising to appear in court on the next scheduled date.

If you or your loved one is arrested and taken to the Atlanta Pre-Trial Detention Center, please contact us any time and we can assist you in helping get a bond set.

Our office is located in downtown Atlanta at 100 Peachtree Street, Suite 2060, Atlanta, Georgia 30303. Feel free to call us at 404-581-0999 anytime day or night. Also, please go to our website at www.peachstatelawyer.com

 

 

First Offender Sentencing in Georgia

First offender treatment is available in Georgia for anyone who has not been previously convicted of a felony and is not charged with a serious violent felony. Serious violent felonies are murder, felony murder, armed robbery, kidnapping, rape, aggravated child molestation, aggravated sodomy, and aggravated sexual battery. Anyone charged with one of those offenses is automatically ineligible for first offender unless the charge is reduced to a lesser offense.

If a defendant receives first offender treatment, it can be both a blessing and a curse. If there are no issues during the period of probation, then no official conviction will ever be reported and the record itself will seal from public view. However, if the defendant commits a new offense while on probation or has any issues at all, then the judge has discretion to revoke the first offender status and re-sentence the defendant up the maximum sentence allowed by law.

While serving the sentence which will undoubtedly involve a period of probation, the defendant is not technically convicted of a crime but still cannot possess a firearm. After successful completion, all gun rights are restored.

Finally, first offender status can be granted retroactively if the defendant was eligible for first offender treatment at the time of the original plea but was not informed of his or her eligibility. Still, there is discretion, and the judge must find by a preponderance of the evidence that the ends of justice and the welfare of society are served by granting retroactive first offender status.

If you are charged with a crime in Georgia, then you should always consult with an attorney as to whether you are a candidate for first offender treatment. If you have already pled guilty, then you should still reach out to discuss whether you can receive retroactive first offender treatment. Give us a call today at 404-581-0999.

City of Atlanta Municipal Court Practices and Procedure

by Ryan Walsh

We get questions every day about how the Atlanta Municipal Court operates on a day to day basis. The Atlanta Municipal Court is the busiest courthouse in the southeast, and it is easy to get overwhelmed in the process. It is located at 150 Garnett Street, Atlanta, GA 30303 on the corner of Pryor Street and Garnett Street in downtown Atlanta. The courthouse is open from 7am – 5pm Monday through Friday (excluding city holidays).

The most important thing you can do to prepare for court at the Atlanta Municipal Court is to verify your court date and time. You can do this in three ways.

Two of those methods are done through online searches:

  • Go to Find My Court Case at the Atlanta Municipal Court’s website and put in your full name or citation number: http://court.atlantaga.gov/mycase/
  • You can search daily dockets for the current month of cases through the Atlanta Courtview system: http://courtview.atlantaga.gov/courtcalendars/default.aspx?Calendar=D Click on the date of your scheduled appearance and scroll through the court dates until you find your name. It should also tell you the time of your appearance and courtroom you are assigned.
  • Finally, you can call the Atlanta Municipal Court clerk’s office at 404-954-7914.

There are 10 Judges assigned to courtrooms in the Atlanta Municipal Court. Those Judges assigned by courtroom are:

3A – Judge Ward, 3B – Judge Gaines , 5A – Judge Portis, 5B – Judge Butler, 5C – Judge Sloan, 5D – Judge Dupre, 6A – Judge Bey, 6B – Judge Gundy, 6C – Judge Graves, and 6D – Judge Jackson

Judge Ward currently handles clients who have previously failed to appear in court. Judge Sloan only handles clients who are charged with Driving under the Influence (DUI). Judge Portis only handles code violations, which are generally residential, business, and noise ordinances. The other Judges handle a combination of state law offenses (traffic and some misdemeanors) and city ordinances.

Court is held at four times each day. Court times are 8:00am, 10:00am, 1:00pm, and 3:00pm. Depending which Judge you are assigned to will determine the time you need to appear in court each day.

Some charges in the City of Atlanta are eligible for the Pre-Trial Intervention program. Completion of the Pre-Trial Intervention program assures your case will be dismissed and your record will be restricted. Our office of experienced attorneys can guide you through the Pre-Trial Intervention program and determine whether we believe your charges will be eligible.

Clients often come to our office after failing to appear in court. Once you fail to appear in court in the Atlanta Municipal Court, your case is taken off the calendar and a bench warrant is issued for your arrest. If you do not address your failure to appear in twenty-one (21) days, the Atlanta Municipal Court sends information to the Georgia Department of Driver Services to suspend your Georgia driver’s license or your privilege to drive in the State of Georgia. At that point your case must be resolved in order to receive documentation to re-instate your driver’s license.

In order to get a court date after you fail to appear in court, you must show up between 7 and 8am at the City of Atlanta Courthouse. You will go downstairs to courtroom 1B where they will add your case to the failure to appear courtroom that day. That courtroom is courtroom 3A. You will then have the option to resolve your case through a plea, or ask for a trial. No matter what happens, you will receive paperwork that recalls the active bench warrant. After your case is resolved you will receive the paperwork to reinstate your driver’s license with the Department of Driver Services to lift any current suspension due to failing to appear.

The Atlanta Municipal Court is the busiest courthouse in the Southeast, handling more cases daily than any other courthouse. Navigating the court process can be difficult. Our firm handles charges in Atlanta every day. We are here to answer your questions and help you. Call us today at 404-581-0999 for a free consultation.

VIDEO – Atlanta, Georgia Theft by Shoplifting Charges – Dunwoody, Alpharetta, Kennesaw

I’ve received theft by shoplifting charges in Georgia, but my court notice says Dunwoody Municipal Court, what’s happening here?

Hello, I’m attorney Scott Smith and I’m here today to talk with you about shoplifting charges. We see a lot of theft by shoplifting arrests in metro Atlanta due to the number of shopping malls in the area. Lenox Mall, Phipps, Atlantic Station, Perimeter Mall, North Point Mall, Town Center, and all the other malls in the Atlanta area.

We also see a lot of shoplifting charges coming from stores like Walmart, Marshall’s, and TJ Maxx.

Many of these cases will originate in municipal courts like Atlanta, Dunwoody, Alpharetta, and Kennesaw.

A theft by shoplifting charge in Georgia can be accused as a misdemeanor or a felony depending on: the amount alleged to have been taken, the number of shoplifting convictions showing on your criminal history, and whether there was a pattern of recent shoplifting activity.

Shoplifting cases generally have two components. The first part is the criminal case. But often folks arrested for theft by shoplifting will receive a letter in the mail from law firms or collection agencies on behalf of the store asking for a payment for a civil penalty. We urge anyone watching this to consult with a Georgia attorney before making any payment to a law firm or collection agency due to this shoplifting charge. It could have an impact on your case.

It is important to state people who shoplift are not bad people. Generally the case comes down to one of three things. The person charged is sometimes depressed. It was an honest mistake such as an accidental concealment or not actually taking the item. Or finally the person thought they needed the item to survive or they were taking it for thrills. Ninety percent of the people we represent fall within the first two categories, depression or an honest mistake.

There are many was to resolve your theft by shoplifting charges in Georgia. Our office of experienced Georgia shoplifting attorneys can evaluate your case and tell you about potential defenses and outcomes. Let us help you today. Call our office at 404-581-0999. Thank you.