As a Michigan criminal defense attorney I have represented clients charged with retail fraud, or shoplifting, in the cities of Lansing, East Lansing, Mason, Haslett, Okemos, Holt, Charlotte, Bath, St. Johns, and Jackson in the counties of Ingham, Eaton, Jackson, and Clinton. Penalties for retail fraud range from 93 days in jail to five years in the state prison. This article will discuss the various penalties and what the prosecutor has to prove to convict you of this offense.
Burden of Proof
It is up to the prosecutor to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. They have to present evidence that shows that you: 1) entered a store that was open to the public, 2) took merchandise that was offered for sale to the public, 3) with the intention of not paying for the merchandise, and 4) you passed the last point of checkout. You can also be guilty of retail fraud by switching price tags or collecting or trying to fraudulently collect a refund.
Usually a store employee or a loss prevention officer (formerly known as store detectives) will stop you and detain you until the police arrives. Remember, that store employees are not the police and thereafter do not have to read you Miranda Rights so be very careful about giving any incriminating statements.
· Merchandise has a value of more than $1,000 or a prior 2nd Degree prior conviction
· Five years in prison and/or $10,000 fine or three times the value of the merchandise (whichever is greater)
· Merchandise value is between $200-$1,000 or a prior conviction
· One year in jail and/or $2,000 fine or three times the value of the merchandise (whichever is greater)
· Merchandise value is less than $200
· 93 days in jail and/or $500 fine or three times the value of the merchandise (whichever is greater)
New Organized Retail Fraud Statute
In January, 2013 Governor Snyder signed the organized retail fraud bill into law. This is where someone is acting as part of an organized ring to commit retail fraud for the purposes of re-selling the items to another retailer or seller. If you or some friends conspire to commit or commit retail fraud with the intention of re-selling the items, you could be charged with this offense which carries penalties up to five years in prison and a $10,000 or both. This raises what would normally be a misdemeanor charge to a serious felony status.
If you have been caught shoplifting chances are you will receive a civil demand letter in the mail shortly thereafter for you to pay the store a civil penalty. The will be at least $50 but no greater than $200 or 10 times the value of the merchandise, whichever is less. These demands must be made to you in writing within 30 days of the incident and they can only issue such a demand if a police report was filed. If you do not pay this penalty, they can try to collect it from you. This is a civil matter and separate from any court costs or fines that you receive from the court regarding the criminal charge. Paying the civil penalty will not be used against you as evidence of guilt in the criminal case because the criminal case has a much higher standard of proof.
Although jail is a possibility, it is very rarely given for a first time offense. It is still rare for repeat offenders but with each new conviction the possibility of jail becomes more likely and it does happen. Many jurisdictions offer a diversion program for first-time offenders. This usually consists of community service, classes, fines, and maybe some other requirements that they feel is beneficial. Each county has their own requirements. The good part is that as long as you successfully complete the diversion program, you will not have a public record of any conviction. If you are not eligible for diversion, you may be eligible for HYTA status. This is a sentencing option available to people who commit certain crimes between the ages of 17 and 21. It has the same out come as the diversion program-- no conviction. The only difference is that HYTA will have formal probation requirements which could range anywhere from one to two years. If you are not eligible for either, chances are you will get probation for your first offense, but jail is a possibility.
It is important to have an experienced criminal defense attorney representing you with experience in retail fraud cases, especially one who is familiar with the courts and judges in your area. A good lawyer can help you mitigate the damage as much as possible and help you decide if any defenses can be raised or if you should take the case to trial.