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What is Shoplifting and What are the Penalties?

Shoplifting is the theft of merchandise from a retail store. Depending on the value of the stolen items and the circumstances surrounding the incident, it can be a misdemeanor or a felony.

At first glance, shoplifting might seem like the perfect example of a minor crime; stealing merchandise from a store seems less malicious than stealing property from an individual. Shoplifting does not involve violence or identity theft, crimes where the harm caused goes beyond financial losses. Despite this, the penalties for shoplifting can be severe. It is possible to get felony charges for shoplifting, and the penalties can include jail or prison time. The more severe penalties are more likely if it is a repeat offense or if the stolen merchandise has a high dollar value. Furthermore, the law recognizes a difference between stealing retail merchandise for one’s own personal use and stealing it for financial gain. If you are being accused of simple shoplifting or organized retail theft, the Atlanta shoplifting lawyers at Ghanayem & Rayasam can help you fight the charges.

Shoplifting Can Be a Felony, Even for a First Offense

Georgia Code 16-8-14 defines the crime of shoplifting as removing or attempting to remove merchandise from a retail store without paying for it. The following actions can count as shoplifting:

  • Putting merchandise inside a container in order to conceal it and facilitate its removal from the store
  • Removing tags or anti-theft devices from merchandise to make it look like the items do not belong to the store or to avoid setting off the store’s alarms when leaving the store
  • Fraudulent exchanges, in which you attempt to obtain an item of merchandise by “exchanging” an item that you did not buy from the store

If the value of the stolen merchandise is less than $500, shoplifting is a misdemeanor. If its value is $500 or more, then shoplifting is a felony. The maximum penalty for first offense of misdemeanor shoplifting is a $1,000 fine and one year in jail. For the first offense of felony shoplifting, the maximum penalty is one to ten years in prison, plus a monetary fine.

Motives Matter in Shoplifting Cases

What you do with the merchandise after you steal it makes a difference in your shoplifting case. Stealing food so that you can eat it or stealing clothes so that you can wear them is, understandably, a less serious offense than stealing items and then selling them for your own financial gain. Shoplifting sometimes occurs as part of organized illegal business activities; stealing from retail stores and reselling the merchandise through organized networks is sometimes known as organized retail theft. If you are accused of participating in such a scheme, you can face charges of conspiracy.

Contact an Atlanta Criminal Defense Lawyer Today

A criminal defense lawyer can help you if you are being accused of shoplifting or participating in an organized retail theft operation. Contact the defense lawyers at Ghanayem & Rayasam in Atlanta, Georgia about criminal defense cases.