Last week we talked about shoplifting.  How it’s more than just stealing merchandise from a store. How you don’t even have to leave a store with merchandise to be arrested for shoplifting. And self-checkout lines? Don’t get me started.

Today I want to talk about what to do and what to expect after you’ve been arrested for misdemeanor shoplifting.

What’s the Difference?

First, let’s talk about the difference between misdemeanor and felony shoplifting.  In Georgia, like most states, a misdemeanor is an offense punishable by law for up to 12 months of imprisonment in county jail and/or up to a $1000 fine. A felony is any offense punishable by law for 1 year or more in the state prison system, and can also include a fine in excess of $1000.

The felony versus misdemeanor distinction depends on the value of the property you’re alleged to have stolen. Under Georgia law, you can be prosecuted for misdemeanor shoplifting if the value of the property taken is $500 or less. If the value of the property you’re accused of taking is $500 or more, you may face felony prosecution.

What are my options?

In my practice I encounter many clients who do not have a criminal history and their arrest for shoplifting is the first time they’ve ever had a brush with the law. These clients are usually facing prosecution for misdemeanor shoplifting. For these clients, I advise that they have 3 options: enter a guilty plea, go to trial, or seek diversion.

Just like any other arrest, clients charged with misdemeanor shoplifting have the right to a trial. Most often, this right is secured by entering a plea of not guilty at arraignment (arraignment is a court date where the state formally apprises you of the charge, or charges, for which you are being prosecuted). A trial is just like what you see on TV- with the state presenting evidence to a jury who decides if you are guilty or not.

Infrequently, some clients exercise their right to enter a plea of guilty to shoplifting, which more than likely results in probation, community service, an anti-theft class, a fine, and restitution to the store for the value of the property stolen.

The third option is diversion. Diversion is usually only available for clients who do not have a criminal history and have never been arrested before. It is an alternative to prosecution that’s similar to probation. But unlike probation, a client does 1) have to go in front of a judge to enter a formal plea of guilty and 2) so long as the client satisfies the terms of diversion, they will avoid prosecution altogether.

If a client accepts a state’s diversion offer, they are required to complete certain terms (the terms often vary depending on the county of arrest). Most often, these include restitution, community service, and an anti-theft class. The benefit of diversion is that is has the same result as being found not guilty at trial. Another benefit is that it helps my clients resolve their cases quickly.

If you have been charged with shoplifting, or know someone who has, and are interested in finding out if diversion is an option contact our office today for a free consultation.