What Is the Distinction Between Misdemeanor Theft and Felony Theft in Georgia?

Georgia criminalizes theft offenses on either a misdemeanor or felony level, depending on the value of the allegedly stolen property. In today’s blog, we will cover the different elements of a misdemeanor theft offense and felony theft offense, as well as the associated penalties for those categories of offenses.

Theft Offenses in Georgia

An individual commits the offense of theft when they unlawfully take or, if they are in lawful possession of the property, unlawfully appropriate any property of another with the intention of depriving them of the property, regardless of how the property was taken or appropriated. Note that to deprive means to withhold the property of the other person permanently or temporarily, or to dispose of the property to make it unlikely that the owner will recover it.

Misdemeanor and Felony Theft

When a theft offense involves property worth $500 or less, the crime is punishable as a misdemeanor in Georgia. The penalties for a misdemeanor include up to 1 year in jail and a fine of no more than $1,000. Note that if an offender receives a sentence of 6 months or less, the sentencing judge has the discretion to allow the sentence to be served via weekend confinement or during the offender's nonworking hours.

If the theft offense involves property valued at more than $500, though, the crime will be punishable as a felony. At the court’s discretion, the offense may be able to be reduced to a misdemeanor. In any case, if charged as a felony, theft carries a sentence of 1-10 years. Other circumstances under which a theft is punishable as a felony in Georgia include:

  • theft of anhydrous ammonia (1-10 years in jail);
  • theft involving the breach of a fiduciary relationship (1-15 years in jail and/or a fine);
  • theft of government or bank property by an employee (1- 15 years in jail and/or a fine);
  • theft involving a gravesite or cemetery decoration (1-3 years in jail);
  • theft of a motor vehicle or vehicle part worth more than $100 (1-10 years in jail);
  • theft committed while telemarketing, using a computer or computer network, or engaging in home repair or improvement (1-10 years in jail);
  • theft of a destructive device, explosive, or firearm (1-10 years in jail).

A shoplifting offense is a specific type of theft that can be charged either as a misdemeanor or felony. If the property shoplifted is valued $300 or less, it will be charged as a misdemeanor in the state of Georgia. Note that a person commits shoplifting when they alone or in cooperation with another person do any of the following with the intent of appropriating merchandise to their own use without paying for the same or to deprive the owner of possession:

  • conceals or takes possession of the goods or merchandise of any store or retail establishment;
  • alters the price tag or other price marking on goods or merchandise of any store or retail establishment;
  • transfers the goods or merchandise of any store or retail establishment from one container to another;
  • interchanges the label or price tag from one item of merchandise with a label or price tag for another item of merchandise; or
  • wrongfully causes the amount paid to be less than the merchant's stated price for the merchandise.

A shoplifting offense constitutes a felony in Georgia, however, if:

  • the value of the shoplifted property is more than $300; or
  • the property is stolen from 3 separate stores in the same county within a 7-day period, and the property of each theft is worth at least $100.

Civil Liability in Georgia

Note that any owner of stolen personal property may bring a civil action for damages against the defendant who allegedly stole the property. Monetary damages in such a case can include:

  • compensatory damages, including the value of the property and any other loss sustained as a result of the theft;
  • liquidated exemplary damages in the amount of $150 or twice the value of the loss, if the value of the total claim is less than $5,000; and
  • costs of maintaining the action.

The civil action may proceed only if:

  • the property owner provided a demand for payment of their losses to the offender at least 30 days prior to filing the civil action;
  • the offender did not pay the amount demanded by the property owner or otherwise enter into a payment agreement within 30 days of receiving the demand for payment; and
  • the property owner did not file the civil action until at least 30 days following the date of service of the written demand for payment or after the offender failed to make the payment as agreed.

Seek Legal Representation in Your Theft Case

If you are facing theft charges in Georgia, it will be important to determine whether your alleged offense is charged as a misdemeanor or felony. A good attorney can help you argue for mitigated misdemeanor charges, which can lessen the severity of penalties you could potentially face. Let the team at Daniels & Taylor, P.C. defend against your theft charge.

Contact our firm at Daniels & Taylor, P.C. for a free consultation about your case today!

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