Shoplifting is a common crime involving the theft of goods from a store or business. It can include people coming into the business or employees stealing from it. Shopowners lament the cost of losing store inventory in this way, but many build the expense into their overhead. Even so, some are still willing to charge shoplifters to the full extent of the law. Some even go so far as to advocate for instituting stiffer penalties.
Critics of these heightened shoplifting charges and the people who press them point out that many of those charged are economically vulnerable and may struggle with mental health issues. So rather than treating the symptom, they see calls for increasing the penalties as punishing the sick.
The elements of shoplifting
Georgia generally defines shoplifting as an intent to appropriate merchandise to their own use without payment. Common examples include:
- Conceals or takes possession of products or merchandise at a retail business
- Alters the price tag on products or merchandise
- Switches the price tag
- Transfers the retail store goods from one container to another
- Methods that generally enable the patron to pay less than the shopowner’s stated price
The penalties can be serious
The maximum penalty for shoplifting goods worth $500 or less is a misdemeanor charge with up to a year in jail and fines. It can become a felony when the value of the goods is over $500, which can mean 1 to 10 years in prison. It may also be a felony if the accused is caught three times in three days in the same county. There are other rules specific to the stolen goods and methodology used.
Individuals can fight these charges
The circumstances of a crime will vary, so it is always wise for the accused to defend themselves. It may be a matter of mistaken identity, the products were legally purchased, or a misunderstanding with no ill intent (such as forgetting to pay). Mitigating circumstances may also help reduce the charges, dismiss them, make it a civil action, or explore alternative sentencing options.