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Georgia shoplifting laws create harsh penalties for theft

Many people see shoplifting as a victimless crime. They walk into a retail establishment, hide something or change out price tags, and then leave the store. Sometimes they pay a fraction of the actual price of the item. Other times, they don't pay anything. The retailer has to factor this kind of loss or shrink into one's overhead, effectively passing the price of stolen goods on to consumers.

In extreme cases, where a store has faced regular and expensive shoplifting, businesses may have to invest heavily in security personal and equipment. In other cases, businesses could end up destroyed by accumulating petty thefts. Everyone involved with a business suffers when it closes, which is why the criminal justice system in Georgia takes shoplifting offenses seriously. Those accused of shoplifting could face criminal penalties, in addition to gaining a criminal record.

How does Georgia define shoplifting?

In Georgia, shoplifting is defined as specific actions taken with the intention of permanently taking items from a store or depriving the owner of the item of its value. The state breaks it down into four separate sections of behavior, each of which is classified as shoplifting for criminal purposes.

One is changing a price tag or other price marking, like a bar code. Another, similar, offense is putting store goods into a different container. A third is concealing an item or otherwise taking possession without paying for it. The last is switching price tags between two pieces of merchandise.

You don't have to leave a store to end up criminally charged

There's a popular misconception that you can only get charged with shoplifting if you leave a store while in possession of unpaid or intentionally underpaid merchandise. If security agents, managers or others witness you switching prices, hiding or taking possession of an item, you could end up detained and charged without ever leaving the store.

It is possible to get charged with shoplifting without stealing anything and without having ever intended to steal anything. When that happens, the best case scenario is often a deal with the retailer that involves repaying the cost of the item.

The price of items impacts the charges you'll face

The more the overall value of the allegedly stolen items, the more serious the criminal charges. You will face misdemeanor charges if you shoplift items with a combined value of $300 or less. A first offense could mean a fine of up to $1,000 and a year in jail. A second offense carries the same maximum penalties, but with a $250 mandatory minimum on the fine. Third offenses carry a mandatory minimum of 30 days in prison.

Items worth more than $300 carry a felony charge with between one and ten years in jail. Those who steal items from three stores in one county within a week could face felony charges, too. If the items taken from each store total $100 or more, the accused person could face a felony charge. In order to defeat these charges, you need to prepare a robust criminal defense.

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