In last month’s article, we discussed theft by conversion, a crime in which someone commits theft by lawfully borrowing, financing, or otherwise obtaining money or property from another person, and then converting that property to their own use – by not repaying the financing agreement, never returning or selling the borrowed property, or otherwise abusing the legal owner’s trust.

But theft by conversion and the common theft by taking are only two forms of theft recognized in Georgia law. There are several other types of theft recognized here and in other states. This month, we’ll take a look at theft by deception and other types of theft as defined in the state of Georgia, and explore why you should immediately secure quality legal representation if you have been charged with theft.

Theft by Deception

Theft by deception is one of the more broadly defined categories of theft in Georgia law. In essence, theft by deception occurs when someone uses deceitful means or “artful practice” to take someone else’s property. This deception can take several forms:

  • Creating or confirming false information (“That camera is mine, my father gave it to me,” or “Sure, I paid for this.”).
  • Preventing another person from obtaining accurate information about the property’s ownership by hiding, destroying, or falsifying ownership records.
  • Selling property that another entity has a lien or legal claim to, such as selling a vehicle for full value and attempting to transfer the title when a financing company still holds a lien.
  • Promising to pay or perform another service in exchange for an item, and then failing to pay or perform the service.
Businessman or politician cross finger, hiding behind his back d

Theft by Extortion

Theft by extortion is a broad class of crimes that includes most types of robbery, as well as other forms of theft. Theft by extortion occurs when someone steals property by threatening to:

  • Hurt the property’s owner or other people if the property is not surrendered (“Your money or your life.”).
  • Accuse the owner or someone else of a criminal offense (“Give me your phone, or I’ll tell the police you stole it.”).
  • Spread information that would tend to expose the owner to hatred, contempt, ridicule, or loss of reputation (“If you don’t want me to tell everyone about your affair, give me your car.”).
  • Take or withhold action as a public official, or cause an official to take or withhold action (“Hand over the deed, or I’ll get my friend on the zoning board to condemn your house.”).
  • Start or continue a strike, boycott, or other collective action if the property is not surrendered (“We’ll go on strike and put you out of business if you don’t let us have last year’s profits.”).
  • Testify, provide information, or withhold testimony or information about the owner’s or another person’s legal claim or defense (“Unless you want me to testify against you in your lawsuit, you’ll give me the money I want.”).

Theft of Lost or Mislaid Property

There are a couple of common expressions that address this crime. “Finders, keepers,” we say as children. As we get older, we may fall back on the old saw that “Possession is nine-tenths of the law.” Neither statement could be any further from the truth.

In the state of Georgia, someone who finds an item of value has no claim to it. If you do take possession of the item, the law requires you to take reasonable measures to find the lawful owner and return their property to them. Only once reasonable measures have been made and no owner can be found can you keep the item and use it for your own benefit.

What constitutes “reasonable measures” is up for debate and will vary based on the nature of the item found. If you see a quarter on the ground in front of a crowded store, it’s extremely unlikely that you will ever identify its proper owner, and there may not be any “reasonable measures” that can be taken. If you find a wallet, complete with ID, then there is a very clear means of identifying the owner, and trying to keep the wallet or any of the items contained therein would constitute theft of lost or mislaid property.

Theft of Services

In this case, the person committing the theft has not stolen someone else’s property, rather they’ve stolen someone else’s time and expertise. If a person receives a service from another person or company, but then willfully fails to pay the agreed price for that service, they’ve committed theft of services.

“Services” in this case is an extremely broad definition that covers almost any transaction where money is to be exchanged in return for something other than a physical object. Any of the following actions could be charged as theft of services:

  • Sneaking into a movie or sporting event without buying a ticket
  • Failing to pay a plumber, electrician, or other service provider who works on your home or other property
  • Illegally reconnecting electrical, water, or other utility service after it’s been disconnected for failure to pay
  • Skipping out on a hotel bill or doing a “dine and dash” at a restaurant

Penalties for Theft

Regardless of the type of theft involved, someone found guilty of theft in Georgia can face severe penalties. Depending on the value of the items or property stolen, the crime can be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or a felony. Typically, the guidelines are as follows:

  • For property valued at less than $1,500, the offense will be prosecuted as a misdemeanor.
  • For property valued between $1,500 and $25,000, the offense is considered a “wobbler.” The judge has the discretion to hear the case as either a felony or a misdemeanor.
  • For property valued at more than $25,000, the offense will be prosecuted as a felony.

Those convicted of misdemeanor theft can be fined up to $1,000 and sentenced to up to one year in prison. They may also be required to return the property and/or pay restitution to the lawful owner.

Those convicted of felony theft of property valued between $1,500 and $25,000 will serve a prison sentence of one to ten years and/or a fine and restitution.

Those convicted of felony theft of property valued at more than $25,000 will serve a prison sentence of two to twenty years and/or a fine and restitution.

Are you Facing a Theft Charge? Talk to Bushway Law Firm by Calling 478-621-4995.

Gregory Bushway is a former prosecutor who has successfully served as a criminal defense attorney in Macon, Georgia, since 2013. Having worked on both sides of cases in Georgia and federal court systems, he knows how to deliver the best results for his clients. Tell us about your case today: 478-621-4995

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