Your Guide to Shoplifting Charges in Georgia
In Georgia, shoplifting can be either a misdemeanor or felony charge, depending on your record and on how much you are alleged to have taken from the business. Shoplifting cases often start in local Municipal Courts like: Alpharetta Municipal Court, Milton Municipal Court, Cumming Municipal Court and Sandy Springs Municipal Court. These courts have shared jurisdiction over shoplifting charges along with the county courts since shoplifting is a state law violation.
What is required for Shoplifting charges? Don't I have to leave the store?
In order to be arrested for shoplifting, it is not even necessary that you leave the store with merchandise. I have many clients who were merely walking around the store, continuing to shop, when they were approached by loss prevention officers and investigated for shoplifting. Generally, if you have not left the store, LPO (prevention officers) are only going to stop and investigate you if they have seen you on camera, or in person, placing merchandise in your clothing or concealing it in a handbag or similar object. Georgia shoplifting law prohibits:
(1) Concealing or taking possession of goods or merchandise of any store or retail establishment;
(2) Altering the price tag or other price marking on goods or merchandise of any store or retail establishment;
(3) Transferring the goods or merchandise of any store or retail establishment from one container to another;
(4) Interchanging the label or price tag from one item of merchandise with a label or price tag for another item of merchandise
As you can see, these four ways to commit shoplifting can all be done and observed without you ever leaving the store, though often, loss prevention will wait until you walk out or near the exit to stop you and ask questions.
Did the loss prevention officer have the right to stop me and take me into a back office?
Another concern I hear from clients accused of shoplifting is the way they were treated. Often, loss prevention officers approach you, tell you to come with them, and take you to some closed door interrogation, all the while you are being treated like a criminal. While these officers are permitted to use reasonable force and methods to protect their stores and merchandise, it does not give them the right to overuse force or threats to you. Generally, I recommend concentrating our defense first on beating the shoplifting charges and then looking into any claims you may have for excessive use of force against the retail establishment.
I was not arrested; do I have to be later?
Shoplifting is an offense that should be reported on your criminal record, meaning you should be arrested and forced to post a bond if you are arrested. However, I see a lot of cases where clients have not been arrested and are instead just given a citation. While not being arrested does save your record in the short term, remember, if you end up pleading guilty or no contest to the charges, your record will be updated to show the shoplifting charge. This is a horrible thing for you, and should be avoided at all cost.
Some courts, like the Forsyth County State Court, will actually require that you go get booked in and processed at the jail, even if you were not initially arrested. This is for the sole purpose of having the charges transferred onto your criminal history report. The goal in defending your case is to have it sealed eventually. Make sure you speak to your attorney about what is currently showing up on your criminal record and how the case resolution will impact your record.
I am on a green card or work visa, will shoplifting prevent me from renewing or becoming a citizen?
Shoplifting crimes can have an adverse impact on residency and visa requirements. Immigration officers have access to information and arrest records, even if your case has been sealed or expunged. If you have a green card or work visa, make sure to address these issues with your attorney. We frequently work with immigration lawyers to ensure the best possible outcome in the criminal prosecution that does not impact your immigration. The absolute worst thing you can do in Georgia on a shoplifting charge is plead Guilty, No Contest, or even First Offender if you have immigration concerns. Immigration sees any admission of guilt as a bad thing and they will hold it against you. Do not go into court without a lawyer if you have immigration concerns about your shoplifting charge.
Defending Your Shoplifting Case; Our Attorneys
Our law firm handles dozens of shoplifting cases annually in courts throughout Metro and North Atlanta and Forsyth County. If you have been arrested for shoplifting and want to discuss your best defense call us today at (770) 676-1340 and ask to speak with one of us directly. We are available for sit down consultations usually within 24 hours of your call.During this first meeting, we will discuss the facts of your arrest, the specific court your case is in, whether or not they have diversion or similar programs, and what you can start doing to help your case. Give us a call or use our contact form today for more information.