How long the state has to pursue a shoplifting case is dictated by the statute of limitations. Essentially, the statute of limitations places a deadline on when criminal prosecution can begin. If the state tries to move forward with a case after the deadline has passed, the court may dismiss it.
In Georgia, criminal statutes of limitations are specified in O.C.G.A. § 17-3-1. While it does not explicitly say when shoplifting charges must commence, it does provide the details for misdemeanors and felonies. For misdemeanors, the state has 2 years from the commission of the crime to prosecute. For felonies, it has 4 years. Thus, when prosecution for shoplifting can begin depends on what level it's charged at.
Before discussing when shoplifting is a felony or misdemeanor, let's first explore what the crime entails.
What Constitutes Shoplifting in GA?
Under O.C.G.A. § 16-8-14, a person commits shoplifting when they unlawfully take merchandise from a retail establishment.
The statute lists several ways such can happen, which include:
- Taking the goods by concealing it,
- Altering the price tag,
- Transferring the merchandise into a different container,
- Switching the price tag or label of the merchandise with those of a lower-priced item, or
- In some way making the purchase price to be less than the stated price.
When Is Shoplifting a Misdemeanor in GA?
The level of charge for shoplifting generally depends on the value of the item involved in the offense. If the merchandise was $500 or less, the crime is a misdemeanor. Thus, in this situation, the state would have 2 years to prosecute.
When Is Shoplifting a Felony in GA?
As stated above, the value of the item usually determines the level. When the merchandise is worth $500 or more, the crime is a felony. It can also be a felony when the person commits a fourth or subsequent shoplifting offense.
If shoplifting is charged as a felony, the state has 4 years to begin prosecution.
What Is the Purpose of the Statute of Limitations?
The statute of limitations serves to facilitate fair trials for those accused of crimes. When the state prosecutes a case, it has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. To do this, the prosecutor must present various pieces of evidence supporting their arguments.
Over time, the evidence can degrade. For instance, witnesses' recollections of the incident could fade or become distorted. Or fingerprints, surveillance footage, or other physical evidence could be lost or mishandled. If such happens, and you are found guilty, your conviction may have rested on faulty evidence.
Can I Go to Jail for Shoplifting in Georgia?
It is possible that if you are convicted of shoplifting – whether it is a misdemeanor or felony offense – you can be incarcerated. If it is the first time you have been found guilty, you could be sent to jail for up to 12 months. For a third offense, you could be jailed for at least 30 days or sent to a probation boot camp, probation detention center, or community correctional facility.
For felony-level shoplifting, you may face prison time, not jail time. A first-time violation is punishable by 1 to 10 years of imprisonment. If the crime was charged as a felony because you committed three prior shoplifting offenses, the statute provides that you are subject to a mandatory minimum of 1 year in prison. However, the court can deviate from this requirement at its discretion, provided that the prosecutor and defendant agree to a sentence below the mandatory minimum.
How Can an Attorney Help with My Case?
A criminal defense lawyer can review the details of your case to ensure your rights are protected. If any of your rights were violated, they could file motions to raise the issue with the court and seek remedy.
At Daniels & Taylor, P.C., we are here to assist with every stage of your case and seek a favorable outcome on your behalf. For legal representation in Gwinnett County, please contact us at (770) 285-1673 today.