Retail fraud is one of the most commonly charged criminal offenses in the State of Michigan. Stated simply, retail fraud is shoplifting and includes the theft or attempted theft of an item for sale in a store open to the public. Retail fraud also includes the action or attempted action of altering or switching a price tag on an item with the intention to pay less than the actual price for that item (i.e., price switching), as well as attempting to return or exchange an item that had not previously been paid for at the time of the attempted return.
Retail Fraud Criminal Penalties
In Michigan, Retail Fraud is punishable by three different degrees with varying penalties and collateral consequences.
First Degree Retail Fraud is a felony offense punishable by up to 5-years in prison and/or a fine of not more than $10,000.00 or 3 times the value of the difference in price, property stolen, or money or property obtained or attempted to be obtained, whichever is more. First degree retail fraud can be charged when someone attempts to defraud a store of an item or items for sale that are valued at $1,000.00 or more. However, someone with a prior retail fraud conviction can be charged with first degree retail fraud if they commit a second degree retail fraud and have at least one prior retail fraud conviction.
Second Degree Retail Fraud is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 1-year in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,000.00 or 3 times the value of the difference in price, property stolen, or money or property obtained or attempted to be obtained, whichever is more. In order for someone to be convicted of second degree retail fraud, they must have attempted to defraud a store of an item or items for sale that are valued at $200.00 or more but less than $1,000.00, or have previously been convicted of third degree retail fraud.
Third Degree Retail Fraud is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 93-days in jail and/or a fine of up to $500.00 or 3 times the value of the difference in price, property stolen, or money or property obtained or attempted to be obtained, whichever is more. In order for someone to be convicted of third degree retail fraud, they must have attempted to defraud a store of an item or items for sale that are valued less than $200.00.
Importantly, a first degree retail fraud charge does not necessarily require that someone attempted to or defrauded one store of at least $1,000.00 in value in one transaction. Rather, Michigan law allows for a first degree retail fraud charge to be brought against someone who, through a course of conduct, defrauded one or more stores on multiple occasions over a 12-month time period, resting in a loss of at least $1,000.00 to that store or multiple stores aggregated together.
Collateral Consequences of a Retail Fraud Charge and Conviction
The collateral consequences for any retail fraud charge and conviction are severe. To begin, whether a condition of bond or sentencing, someone charged with retail fraud will be prohibited from returning to the store during the pendency of the case and sentence. The store can even issue a trespass notice, barring that person from ever returning to the store or location of the theft, such as a mall. Additionally, while any felony conviction raises possible immigration issues, larceny and theft related crimes qualify as a crime of moral turpitude subjecting the person convicted to potential immediate deportation. A felony theft conviction can also preclude federal and state benefits or licensing. For example, several licenses issued by the State of Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) can be suspended or even revoked for "lack of good moral character."
Defending a Retail Fraud Allegation
It is vital that anyone charged with or alleged to have committed a retail fraud offense contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer immediately. Most stores and shopping complexes are equipped with high quality video cameras and a team of loss prevention officers who monitor these cameras specifically to find and prevent theft. Video evidence from these cameras as well as loss prevention officer notes and initial reports can be lost if not preserved immediately. Often the defense in a retail fraud charge is based on what the loss prevention officers and law enforcement witnessed, as well as the method of theft alleged. These videos are vital to fact check a loss prevention report and are necessary for a thoroughly prepared defense. Other evidence can include witness statements, receipts, and photographs. Even if the evidence that someone attempted to or completed an act of retail fraud is overwhelming, the prosecution must still prove the value of the items stolen. Early intervention can be the difference between a felony and misdemeanor charge.
Spencer M. Bondy & Retail Fraud Charges
I have represented and protected numerous clients from retail fraud investigations and criminal charges throughout the State of Michigan. My experience includes helping my clients to resolve issues such as mental health concerns, monetary concerns, or uncontrollable impulses that underlie the alleged criminal action, as well as contesting the evidence presented by the government. Regardless of the circumstances, each and every one of my clients is provided with respect and an aggressive, candid, and dedicated attorney. I have consistently obtained outstanding results for my clients facing retail fraud criminal charges and related collateral consequences. If you or a loved one are facing a retail fraud charge, please contact me today.