This is an updated article in our series about retail fraud cases which are handled extensively by our criminal defense lawyers in Macomb County. We have posted several other articles relating to retail fraud that are referenced at the end of this article.
Places/courts where retail fraud cases are prevalent
Retail fraud cases seem to be on the rise in every court where we appear. Retail fraud cases are always one of the most frequently charged misdemeanor offenses in the Macomb County District Courts. While every court in Macomb and Oakland County sees its fair share of retail fraud cases, the courts which are located in jurisdictions with shopping malls, mega strip centers and major shopping corridors have the greatest number of retail fraud cases on their dockets. A list of the courts that would fall in this category are as follows:
- 37th District Court (Warren and Centerline)
- 41-A District Court (Sterling Heights, Lakeside Mall)
- 41-A District Court (Shelby Twp, Utica, Macomb Township)
- 41-B District Court (Clinton Twp, Partridge Creek)
- 42-2 District Court, (Chesterfield Twp, New Baltimore, 23 & Gratiot)
- 43rd District Court (Madison Heights, Oakland Mall)
- 52-4 District Court (Troy, Somerset Collection)
Retail fraud penalties: Prior record of offender may increase penalty
Retail fraud crimes can be charged as a felony or misdemeanor and are classified by the value of the property taken or whether the offender has a prior record. A prior record for larceny, false pretenses or a prior retail fraud may result in enhanced penalties.
Retail fraud usually involves the act of taking property from a retail establishment without paying for it. It may also involve attempting the change price tags or paying less than the actual price by some act to defraud the establishment. The degrees and penalties for retail fraud are as follows:
Retail fraud 1st Degree, felony: Value of property stolen: $1,000.00 or more Maximum penalty: 5 years imprisonment and/or a fine of not more than $10,000.00 or 3 times the value of the difference in price or property stolen, whichever is greater.
Retail fraud 2nd Degree, misdemeanor: Value of property stolen: $200.00 to $999.99 Maximum penalty: 1 year in jail and/or a fine of not more than $2,000.00 or 3 times the value of the difference in price or property stolen, whichever is greater.
Retail fraud 3rd degree, misdemeanor: Value of property stolen: less than $200.00 Maximum penalty: 93 days in jail and/or a fine of not more than $500.00 or 3 times the value of the difference in price or property stolen, whichever is greater.
Some reasons that someone commits shoplifting or retail fraud
There are some reoccurring reasons as to “why” a person commits a retail fraud offense. Our clients are usually the kind of people that have never been in trouble and are faced with personal difficulties. However, shoplifting is not limited to those that are downtrodden and underprivileged. Some of our clients are well off or suffer from a compulsive shoplifting disorder. It is our job to work with our clients to understand why he or she engaged in risky behavior so that we can provide effective legal representation and solutions.
Financial distress: The number 1 reason that is given for committing retail fraud is because of family financial turmoil. In cases such as this, we find our clients taking things to maintain the household such as food, household goods and children’s clothing. I attribute this to the meltdown of the economy which hit middle class families the hardest.
Impulsive behavior: Impulsive conduct, or acting before you think, is also high on the list of reasons that a person engages in the offense of retail fraud. Impulsive conduct is almost always tied to some other life problem or stressor which we try to identify. Impulsive behavior is more common with youthful offenders. However, impulsive behavior is also present when someone has a psychological disorder such as ADHD, anxiety disorder or recent stressful event such as a death, retirement or marital problems.
Prescription medications and drug addiction: Prescription medications for psychological disorders can sometimes cause irrational behavior which leads to a person to commit retail fraud. In these cases, we recommend that our client get a current medical examination and consider engaging the services of a counselor. Drug addicts may commit retail fraud because of financial reasons or to resell goods to fund a drug habit. Again, getting as much background as possible and taking proactive measures before court can make a vast difference in the outcome of a case.
What to expect in the Macomb County District Courts
The outcome of a retail fraud case in the Macomb County Districts Courts will depend upon various factors including:
- The prior criminal record of the offender.
- The value of the property stolen can make a minor retail fraud offense into a felony.
- The proactive measures taken by the offender prior to the first court date.
In a recent Wall Street Journal Article regarding misdemeanor offenses, Judge Thomas Boyd, who handles misdemeanor cases in Ingham County, Michigan, said “he sometimes finds himself arguing with defendants who seem too eager to admit wrongdoing without consulting a lawyer.”
While retail fraud cases do not usually involve jail, they can be devastating on a person’s permanent criminal record. A retail fraud offense can label an individual as a “thief” or “dishonest” person.
When a client has never been convicted of a crime, we may be able to advocate for a plea bargain to obtain a first offender program (such as HYTA) or petition for a delayed sentence which can result in dismissal of the offense. When someone is charged with felony retail fraud in the first degree, our goal may be to seek a reduction of the felony to a misdemeanor and avoid jail. Our experience has been that most retail fraud cases are resolved favorably by knowing our courts, knowing our clients and taking action prior to the first court date to address underlying problems associated with risky behavior.