Shoplifting: But I never left the store

Question: I was in a liquor store in Dunwoody and drank some wine and I got arrested for shoplifting. I was with a friend from work and we both collect wine and we went to a new wine shop and we opened a bottle and drank it. We drank the whole bottle of some $30.00 wine. When the manager of the store asked what we were doing, we said we like to sample the product before buying so we don’t buy bad wine.

When the manger obnoxiously asked us to pay for it, we said that it wasn’t really too good and we told him we wouldn’t pay for it. We said the wine was of poor quality and we didn’t think it should be sold for $30.00. So we were not going to pay for it. Why would we? But we said we’d come back sometime and if we liked the wine we sample we would buy a few cases of it, which is what we do when we really like a wine.

The manager got mad and called the police. When the cop got there we told the officer the truth that the wine sucked, that it was overpriced and that we would not pay for it on principle. The cop said either we could pay for it or he’d arrest us. When we said we don’t pay for low-quality wine, he arrested us for shoplifting

Can the cop really arrest us for shoplifting just because we drank and then refused to pay for bad wine? We never took the bottle out of the store. And we do this all the time at Atlanta wine shops where they know us. Is it really a crime to refuse to pay for a product that is overpriced? Is it a felony?

T.E. in Alpharetta, GA

Answer: You can be charged for shoplifting in Georgia if you use a product and don’t pay for it. By drinking the wine and refusing to pay for it you are considered to have “stolen” it, even if you didn’t leave the store with the bottle.

It is not a valid legal defense to claim that the wine was of poor quality or that it was overpriced. Again, by consuming the wine, you are considered to have stolen it under Georgia law.

A valid defense, for example, would be if the manager/owner asked you to try it, and then after sampling it you decided not to purchase it. That is akin to trying a sample of food in a store and then not buying the product. In that case you cannot be charged with shoplifting. You were invited to try a sample.

Because of the value of the wine you are charged with a misdemeanor, not a felony. Only shoplifting property valued at more than $500.00 is a felony.

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