Charged with Shoplifting? Georgia Law Explained

Posted by Megan GroutApr 07, 20240 Comments

Shoplifting theft
Shoplifting Charges

Charged with Shoplifting? Georgia Law Explained

     Shoplifting is a very common reason for arrest in Georgia. But the law can get complicated depending on how the shoplifting occurred or how many prior convictions you may have. I'm going to break down the law to help you better understand what kind of punishment you might be facing. 

What does the law consider to be shoplifting?

In order to be convicted of shoplifting, the evidence must show that you (or when working  withanother person), with the intent to take merchandise for your own use without paying for it, does any of the below:

(1) Conceals or takes possession of the goods or merchandise of any store or retail establishment;

(2) Alters the price tag or other price marking on goods or merchandise of any store or retail establishment;

(3) Transfers the goods or merchandise of any store or retail establishment from one container to another;

(4) Interchanges the label or price tag from one item of merchandise with a label or price tag for another item of merchandise; or

(5) Wrongfully causes the amount paid to be less than the merchant's stated price for the merchandise.


What if I never even left the store?

      As you can see from language above, theft by shoplifting does not actually require that you pass all pay areas and leave the store in order to be charged with a crime. If you are observed concealing items or manipulating the price tags as described above, you can be detained for shoplifting even if you have not left the store  yet.  Remember, every year technology improves and many stores now have excellent, high-quality video cameras. They are able to watch you as you proceed through the store and observe whether you are concealing items or manipulating price tags. They are then able to provide that video to the prosecutors to use at your trial. This does not automatically mean you are guilty, but you need to be prepared to discuss with your attorney defenses to the accusations that can overcome what is shown on the video. 

When is shoplifting a misdemeanor?

      If you are convicted of shoplifting, the punishment will depend on the value of what was stolen (or in the process of being stolen) from the store. If the property that was the subject of the theft is $500 or less, then you will be charged with a misdemeanor. A misdemeanor carries a maximum of 12 months in jail and up to a $1,000 fine. If it is the second time you've been convicted of shoplifting, there is a mandatory $500 fine in addition to whatever jail or probation (or both) that the judge will sentence you to, which still cannot exceed 12 months. If it is your third conviction of shoplifting, you will be required to spend at least 30 days in jail or 120 days in a probation-like boot camp, a probation detention center or under house arrest, in addition to whatever other custody or probation the judge may impose. The judge is required to sentence you to at least that amount of time.

 When is shoplifting a felony?

     If the value of the property that was the subject of the theft is worth more than $500 (as a total value of all things being shoplifted at the same time), it is considered to be a felony, and the range of punishment is 1 to 10 years. If it is your first offense, the judge can sentence you to prison, probation, or a combination of both within that 1 to 10 year range. 

     If this is your second or third shoplifting offense (even if the priors were felonies or misdemeanors), the additional requirements of custody listed above for misdemeanor shoplifting also apply to felony shoplifting. So, you may be required to do mandatory custody time or pay a mandatory fine. If it is your fourth shoplifting conviction, whether the prior convictions were misdemeanors or felonies, the punishment is still 1 to 10 years. However, you will be required to serve a minimum of one year in custody in this situation. The judge does not have the ability to reduce, suspend, or probate that first year in custody. 

What if I am charged with multiple shoplifting incidents all at once?

     If it is a series of thefts from three retail establishments in the same county within 7 days or less, and the amount of the merchandise totals (for all the thefts) more than $500 in value, then you will be charged with a felony. The punishment range is one to ten years and it can be served in custody, on probation or a combination of both. (Unless you have prior convictions, in which case see above.)

     You can also be convicted of felony shoplifting if you are convicted of committing a series of thefts, all within 180 days, where the total for all the thefts together exceeds $500 in value. The punishment for this kind of felony shoplifting is also 1 to 10 years, and does not have mandatory sentencing unless you have prior convictions for shoplifting. (Unless you have prior convictions, in which case see above.)

What if I try to get a refund and they arrested me?

     Georgia law makes it against the law to use a fake name or address (or use someone else's name and address without permission) in order to try to get a refund from a store for merchandise. You are not allowed to try to obtain a refund in any form of payment, using a driver's license that has a fake name or false information. This is considered to be refund fraud and is punished in a similar manner to the punishments I discussed above.   If you cheat or defraud a store with the use of sale receipt or UPC code that results in theft of property that exceeds $500, you will be charged with a felony and will be facing 1 to 3 in custody or on probation or both. The punishment range increases if it is a series of thefts using retail receipts.

 If I am arrested for shoplifting, does that mean I will be convicted?

     In any situation where someone is accused of shoplifting, the state still has to prove that you had the intent to take the merchandise and intended to pay the correct price for it. There may also be questions regarding the value of the merchandise and issue with the time frame if a series of thefts is alleged.  Your attorney will be able to talk through the facts of your case with you to see what defense you have. Even if the state has a good case against you, there may be programs in the jurisdiction where you case is pending that may offer a good alternative to regular prosecution. You should talk to your lawyer about what options are available to you that may help you avoid a conviction for shoplifting on your record.


The store detained me for shoplifting while they called the police. Was it legal for the store to detain me?

      Georgia law does allow retail establishments to detain someone if they have reasonable grounds to believe that you committed or attempted to commit the offense of shoplifting, refund fraud or theft by unlawful use of retail receipt. Of course, if they did not have a reasonable belief that you had committed such a crime, or they acted in a manner that was well beyond what could be considered reasonable, you may have an argument that a crime was committed and/or a civil claim against the store.