Legalese — Different Ways to Steal

photo credit: Lori DuffHow many times have you seen this on tv or read it in a book: a family comes back from a wholesome outing to find their front door swinging open. They step inside gingerly, Mom holding the kids and Dad putting on a brave face, to find their living room in shambles. “We’ve been robbed!” Mom sobs. Someone whips out a cell phone and calls the police.

Except no, no one has been robbed. They’ve been burgled. There’s a difference. Burglary, as defined in the Official Code of Georgia is when a person “enters or remains within” a building “without authority and with the intent to commit a felony or theft therein.” The punishment, depending upon the type of building, can be anywhere between one and twenty years in prison, although that sentence can be suspended or probated.

Robbery is something different. Robbery, as defined by Georgia law, is taking the “property of another from the person or immediate presence of another.” In other words, you have to be there when your stuff is taken, and aware of its being taken while it is being taken. It carries a sentence of anywhere from one to twenty years. Armed robbery, logically, is the same as robbery, but when a weapon is used. It doesn’t have to be a gun – it can be any “offensive weapon.” It can also be a replica of a weapon. If the person being robbed reasonably thinks it is a weapon, then it is armed robbery. That’s how you get the armed robbery convictions where someone puts their finger in their pocket and says “I have a gun.” Armed robbery punishments include the death penalty, life imprisonment, or by imprisonment for not less than ten or more than 20 years. If you don’t mind, go back and read that last sentence again. Yes, you can be sentenced to 20 years for armed robbery, or life in prison, but not 30 years. Why? No one knows. It is one of those many instances in which the law is inconsistent and makes no sense.

There are many other kinds of theft as defined by Georgia law.

Theft by Taking is more your garden variety theft. It wasn’t taken from your house, it wasn’t taken in your presence, it was just taken. If you leave your bike in your front yard, and someone swipes it, that is theft by taking. Theft by taking (motor vehicle) is when someone takes your car. It doesn’t have to be a permanent taking – “I was gonna give it back” is not a defense. So long as they took it so you didn’t have it, it is theft.

Theft by Deception requires some kind of fraud. “If you give me your money, I will buy you a car at a great discount, because I have these awesome connections at GM.” Only you don’t, and you take the money and go on a Carribean cruise.

Theft by Conversion is when you originally took something legitimately, but held on to it and wouldn’t give it back. For example, if I lend you my car and tell you to have it back by Tuesday, only Thursday rolls around and you still haven’t given it back and aren’t answering my phone calls.

Theft by Shoplifting is when you take something from a store. You don’t have to actually get it out of the store – concealing it is enough for a conviction. So if you put it in your purse or pocket, but never make it past the cash registers, you’re guilty. “But I didn’t leave the store” is no excuse.

Theft by Receiving is when you are in possession of something stolen that you knew or should have known was stolen. Often, it is difficult to prove that someone knew an item was stolen, but it isn’t that hard to prove that someone should have known something was stolen. For example, if you’re driving a stolen car that has a screwdriver sticking out of the ignition, you should have known it was stolen. If your cousin who never had a job in his life suddenly shows up with a brand new Lexus and asks if you want to drive it, say no.  If you bought a brand new Xbox 360 with a dozen games and four controllers and extra memory from some guy on the street for $75, you should have known it was stolen.

Obviously, there are a great many more subtleties to these offenses, and many of them vary as to whether they are felonies or misdemeanors based on things like the worth of the item taken or the number of times you have done this before. This is just meant to be a broad outline.

This article was written by a lawyer, but should not be considered legal advice in any way, shape, or form. It is written for general (and generally vague) informational purposes only. In order to properly evaluate your case, a lawyer must examine all the facts and circumstances that are particular and personal to your situation. I have not done that here.

About Lori Duff 74 Articles
Lori is the author of the bestselling collection of humor essays, "Mismatched Shoes and Upside Down Pizza" currently available exclusively on Amazon. In order to finance her writing habit, she is a practicing lawyer with Jones & Duff, LLC. She is married to Mike Duff, who is a retired DeKalb County Public Safety Officer, and has two amazing children who make cameo embarrassing appearances in her blog posts and who attend Walton County Public Schools. Her legal column, "Legalese", is meant to de-mystify and humanize the Court system. When asked about her writing, Lori says, "Life is too short not to laugh at every available opportunity. My goal is to make myself laugh -- and hopefully you will laugh along with me."
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