Generally speaking, “theft” refers to what happens whenever someone unlawfully takes something that does not belong to them. In Georgia, “theft” is a broad term describing many acts prosecuted under several laws. The state recognizes theft by deception, theft of services, theft of lost or mislaid property, theft by receiving, and several other classes of theft in its laws.

Two of Georgia’s most cited theft laws prohibit “theft by taking” and “theft by conversion.”  While these two crimes sound similar, and both involve unlawfully taking someone else’s property, the offenders’ means of obtaining the property in the first place are very different.

In this article, we will explore the differences between “theft by taking” and “theft by conversion,” look at the potential penalties for each offense, and examine why a good criminal defense lawyer is a must for anyone charged with theft in Georgia.

Theft by Taking

Referred to in other jurisdictions as “larceny,” theft by taking is simply the act of taking something that belongs to another person. Most of the crimes that people think of when they’re discussing “theft” fall under this category:

  • Stealing someone’s possessions after breaking into their home or car (theft by taking and burglary)
  • Stealing someone’s possessions after threatening them with violence (theft by taking and robbery)
  • Picking someone’s pocket
  • Grabbing someone’s bag when they set it down for a moment
  • Hotwiring and stealing a car

Theft by Conversion

Contrasted to theft by taking, in which someone takes something that doesn’t belong to them by illegal means, theft by conversion is a little more complicated. In theft by conversion, the offender obtains possession of the property in question legally – by renting or borrowing it, taking out credit, or being placed in charge of it on another’s behalf  – and then “converts” the property to their own use.

Examples of theft by conversion include:

  • Renting a car or piece of equipment and failing to return it
  • Borrowing property from someone and then selling it for your gain
  • Buying something from a store on credit and then failing to make the required payments
  • Using access to a company bank account to take money from the account for your use
  • After being appointed as executor of someone’s will, taking money from the estate for your use

In all cases of theft by conversion, the victim has entrusted the offender with the property taken, and the offender has abused that trust for personal gain.

Penalties For Theft by Taking vs. Theft by Conversion

Both theft by taking and theft by conversion can be prosecuted as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the value of the property:

  • In cases where the stolen property is valued at less than $1,500, the offense is a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and a sentence of no more than 12 months of jail time.
  • If the stolen property is valued between $1,500 and $5,000, the offense is a felony, punishable by a prison sentence of 1-5 years. However, in some instances, the court has the discretion to try an offense of this category as a misdemeanor.
  • If the stolen property is valued at over $5,000, the offense is a felony punishable by a sentence of 2-20 years in prison.

In addition to the criminal penalties above, offenders can also be targeted by civil claims from the victim and be ordered to pay:

  • Compensatory damages in an amount equal to the value of the stolen property and any loss of use due to the theft.
  • Restitution damages for any harm that befell the victim because of the theft.
  • Liquidated exemplary damages up to $5,000.
  • Costs to the court and attorney fees that can reach into the tens of thousands of dollars.

Defending Yourself Against a Theft Charge

If you’re a defendant in a theft case, the prosecution may have significant evidence against you, and it may seem like mounting a defense is hopeless. There are, however, several valid defenses that an aggressive and experienced criminal defense attorney can explore to help your case be heard and judged fairly. When meeting with a defense attorney, it is vital that you tell them the truth about the case and your situation so that they can plan the most effective defense.

Are You Facing a Theft by Taking or Theft by Conversion 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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