When people imagine shoplifting offenses, they typically picture a teenager slipping candy bars, make-up or sunglasses into a pocket or purse to avoid paying for it. Many people view shoplifting as a form of youthful rebellion and not a serious crime.
However, the government of Georgia does not share that perspective. Instead, the state takes issues related to retail fraud and theft very seriously. In fact, the legal definition of shoplifting or retail fraud in Georgia is broader than most people imagine.
It includes many activities beyond simply concealing items and then stealing items from a store. If you aren't familiar with the state's law, you could find yourself feeling very surprised when loss prevention or security professionals detain you while shopping in a store. Even if you didn't steal something, you could still wind up facing charges.
Georgia retail fraud law includes concealment and obfuscation
Maybe you don't like carrying baskets or pushing a cart so you just hold items in your arms, and then something slipped into your pocket from the crook of your elbow without your realizing it. Maybe you tried on multiple shirts and forgot that the tank top you had on underneath was also from the store. It's also possible that while inspecting an item you accidentally removed or deactivated a security tag.
All of these scenarios could result in an arrest and charges of retail fraud. Although you never left the store with the items in question, security or loss prevention professionals might believe that you intended to deprive the retailer of the full value of the item in question.
People can also wind up facing retail fraud accusations for placing an item from the store inside another item, such as a container or a box, or removing or altering price tags or barcodes. Individuals who had no intention of stealing could do something that looks suspicious and find themselves suddenly facing criminal charges that could affect their lives for some time to come.
Intent is important for the prosecution of a crime
Because many people think of shoplifting as a minor offense, they may assume that pleading guilty to avoid dragging out the criminal proceedings is the best way to handle allegations of shoplifting. However, a guilty plea will affect your employment and even your personal life if people discover what happened.
If you got arrested because of a mix-up, you may be able to defend yourself by asserting the fact that you did not steal and had no intention of doing so. Other people may be able to testify that the behavior that loss prevention considered to be suspicious was actually typical of how you behave in a retail establishment before you make a purchase.
Different scenarios present different opportunities for defense. Talking with an experienced Georgia criminal defense attorney can help you explore your options.