Georgia is Tough on Theft Crimes
The vast majority of theft crimes in Georgia are charged as either theft by taking or theft by shoplifting. The distinction will have major consequences in determining whether you're charged with a felony or a misdemeanor.
For instance, one determining factor as to whether or not you are charged with a felony is the value of the property. If you are charged with theft by shoplifting and the value of the property taken is worth $500 or more, you will be charged with a felony. However, if you are charged with theft by taking, the threshold for a felony is $1,500.
Theft Crime Defenses
There are a number of legal defenses that may apply in theft cases, even if the underlying facts support the claim that the defendant took property from another party without permission. For instance, the alleged theft could have stemmed from an honest misunderstanding of ownership or done under duress. As with any criminal case, it really depends on the specific facts.
Assuming that a taking of property by the individual accused actually did occur, here are a few of the more typical theft crime defenses that may apply in many cases.
Claim of Right or Ownership of Property
An individual who is accused of stealing property may have a valid defense if they are able to establish that they had a good faith belief the property they took was theirs or that they had a valid claim to it. Although a somewhat straightforward defense, it is not as simple as just claiming "I thought it was mine." Typically a defendant will need to provide evidence supporting their claim.
It may be possible to successfully defend theft charges if a defendant is able to establish that he or she was intoxicated at the time the alleged theft occurred. Regardless of the type of intoxication, alcohol, chemicals or drugs, if an individual was unable to form the required intent to steal (for example, in their intoxicated state, they mistakenly thought an item belonged to them), they may have a viable intoxication defense.
For instance, if you are charged with theft after mistakenly taking someone's expensive leather coat (thinking it was yours) because you were too drunk to notice, you may have a valid defense. However, you still would need to provide proof.
Return of Property as a Defense
People often wonder if returning stolen property can provide a defense to theft or prevent charges from being brought in the first place. Returning stolen property generally does not provide a defense to a charge of theft. Still, doing so can definitely paint a more sympathetic picture to a prosecutor for purposes of a possible plea deal, and also may help with reducing the penalties in a case.
A different and viable defense may exist, however, if a defendant is able to establish they had the intent to return the property at the time it was taken and actually could do so. It is fairly common to defend theft charges by claiming the property was just being "borrowed."
Similarly, you may be able to defend against theft charges if you simply forgot to return something you borrowed.
Talk to a criminal defense attorney now at (404) 369-0048 for a free assessment of your case!