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Everything You Want to Know About Pretrial Conferences in Macomb County

December 7, 2012,

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This year, we have published several blogs dedicated to "frequently asked (criminal law) questions". Whenever possible, we endeavor to avoid legalese by providing articles in layman's terms. The focus of this blog is pretrial conferences in Macomb County District Courts.

What is a pretrial conference?

A pretrial conference is a meeting that is attended by the attorneys for the parties in a criminal or civil case. The major purposes of a pretrial conference are to facilitate resolution of a case, management of a case for trial or management of a case regarding pertinent issues (as listed below). A pretrial conference is scheduled after either a criminal or civil case is filed with the court, a case number and a Judge are assigned. In Macomb County, criminal pretrial conferences are held soon after the arraignment. For misdemeanors, which occur in Macomb County, the pretrial conference will always be held at the district court (click here for complete listing of links to Macomb County District Courts). Felony pretrial conferences can occur on the date scheduled for a preliminary examination and again after the case is bound over to the circuit court. A person charged with a crime (the defendant) is required to be present on the date scheduled for pretrial conference. However, he or she is usually not allowed in the conference room with the attorneys. On the other hand, police officers and victim's rights advocates with court business are allowed in the conference room. Likewise, an alleged victim may be present at the pretrial conference as the prosecutor must obtain the victim's consent for a plea bargain in most criminal cases.

The direction of a criminal case is often determined after a pretrial conference. Pretrial conferences are a vital tool, which a skilled criminal defense lawyer will utilize for several reasons:

  • Promote dismissal of the charge(s) under certain circumstances
  • Negotiate a favorable plea bargain
  • Address bond, bond conditions and/or release from jail
  • Adjourn the pretrial conference to seek a deviation when strict policy obstructs a plea bargain
  • Request modification of no-contact order (domestic violence cases)
  • Negotiate restitution when financial losses are claimed
  • Meet with the Judge when judicial support is needed to discuss various matters, such as sentence bargains, creative plea bargains or to simplify issues of the case when set for trial
  • Size up the prosecution's case, witnesses and evidence
  • Request copies of discovery (police reports, videos, chemical test results)
  • Schedule one or more motion dates to attack the evidence, or to weaken the case
  • Set future pretrial conference date(s) when delay can tend to improve the defense position
  • Schedule the case for a bench or jury trial

Factoid: A person who is accused of a crime is not considered a "defendant" until that person is formally charged with a crime. Our criminal defense lawyers never refer to our clients as "defendants" when speaking to the court or prosecutor because of negative connotations. We prefer to refer to our clients by their given name or "the accused".

What is the attorney's role at a pretrial conference?

The best way for me to summarize an attorney's role at a pretrial conference is by mentioning a few passages from the Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct.

A lawyer is a representative of clients, an officer of the legal system and a public citizen having special responsibility for the quality of justice.

As advocate, a lawyer zealously asserts the client's position under the rules of the adversary system.

As negotiator, a lawyer seeks a result advantageous to the client but consistent with requirements of honest dealing with others.

What is the defendant's role at a pretrial conference?

Macomb County (as well as Oakland, Wayne and St.Clair), require the attendance of the defendant at the pretrial conference. If the defendant "fails to appear", an arrest warrant may be issued. Prior to the pretrial conference, our criminal defense attorneys discuss goals and/or strategies with our clients. Even though the defendant is not present in the conference room, he or she is well informed of our intentions. We advise our clients to be punctual, dress appropriately and to refrain from discussing their case with anyone at the courthouse. We assume that our client's conduct is "being monitored". Therefore, we discourage any interaction with the victim or any conduct which draws unfavorable attention. Any progress towards working out a deal can be blown if a client offends certain key decision makers at the pretrial conference or at any other time while a criminal case is pending!

Is there an appearance in the courtroom after the pretrial conference?

After the pretrial conference, the defendant and his or her attorney will appear in open court and inform the Judge of the results. The Judge has the final say regarding the outcome of a pretrial conference. For example, certain plea bargains may be against the Judge's own policy and may require some persuasion and legal authority. In addition, the Judge may show frustration when the parties are attempting to adjourn (delay) cases. Since adjournments tend to clog court dockets, the Judge will require that "good cause" be shown.

Our experience is that a pretrial conference is an invaluable opportunity to advocate on behalf of our clients. Advocacy includes elements of assertiveness and diplomacy. We often can achieve a disposition after the pretrial conference. This may result in a plea bargain, which may have the effect of dismissing the criminal charges in exchange for completion of probation. It is our job to protect our client's rights and seek the best possible outcome, which may mean saving a client from being exposed to egregious facts and the expenses of an unnecessary trial. The defendant remains the ultimate decision-maker when presented with options after the conclusion of a pretrial conference.

Some other important things to know about pretrial conferences:

-Denial of a pretrial conference may constitute a denial of "due process" rights. US vs. Ataya, 864 F2d 1324 (1988)
-No admissions made by the defendant's lawyer in the setting of a pretrial conference are admissible against the defendant during trial.
-Pretrial Conferences for federal criminal cases are governed by Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 17.1

The addresses and phone numbers for all Macomb County district courts can be found at the following links:


Warren
37th District Court

Eastpointe
38th District Court


Roseville and Fraser
39th District Court

St. Clair Shores
40th District Court

Sterling Heights
41-A District Court

Shelby, Utica and Macomb Township
41-A District Court

Clinton Township, Mt. Clemens, Harrison Township
41-B District Court

Romeo, Washington Township, Armada, Bruce Township, Ray Township, Richmond, Memphis
42-1 District Court

New Baltimore, Chesterfield Township, Lenox Township, New Haven
42-2 District Court


We continue to provide public information to our readers - The Top 50 Most Frequently Charged Felonies in Michigan

November 13, 2012,

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The Michigan Bar Association releases crime data for the state from time to time. While researching cases, we came across an informative article written by the Michigan Bar Association regarding the most frequently charged felonies in the State of Michigan. This article can be viewed here: Top 50 Felonies Most Frequently Charged in Michigan. Based upon our experience, I would agree: this list is an accurate representation of the types of cases that our Macomb County criminal defense firm handles on a frequent basis.

Listed below is a selection of the top felonies charged in Michigan:
Possession of a Controlled Substance (heroin, cocaine, analogues)
• Possession of Marijuana (double penalty for second offense)
• Possession of methamphetamine (MDMA)
Possession with intent to deliver less than 50 grams (cocaine, narcotic)
• Possession of an Analogue controlled substance (pills)
• Possession with intent to deliver marijuana
• Manufacturer or delivery of less than 5 kilograms of marijuana
Drunk driving - 3rd offense
• Assault with Dangerous/Deadly Weapon ("Felonious Assault")
Assault with Intent to do Great Bodily Harm
• Resist/Obstruct a Police Officer & fleeing and eluding
Criminal Sexual Conduct - 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Degree
• Keeping or Maintaining Drug House
Home Invasion
• Retail Fraud 1st Degree (Retail Fraud 2nd and 3rd Degree are misdemeanors)
• Larceny in a Building, Larceny from a Vehicle

Sometimes, the amount of loss will determine whether an offense is classified as a felony. Offenses, such as embezzlement and malicious destruction of property, are also on the list of top felonies when the value is $1,000.00 or greater. If the value of stolen property was less than $1,000.00, the offense would qualify as a misdemeanor.

Pursuant to the Michigan Sentencing Guidelines, felonies are further broken down into categories that determine the accompanying sentence. Punishment for each class is listed below:
• Class A - Life imprisonment
• Class B - Up to 20 years in prison
• Class C - Up to 15 years in prison
• Class D - Up to 10 years in prison
• Class E - Up to 5 years in prison
• Class F - Up to 4 years in prison
• Class G - Up to 2 years in prison
• Class H - Jail or other intermediate sanctions, such as fines

Note: A future blog will be dedicated to the Michigan Sentencing Guidelines.

Below, you will find connections to some of our blogs that are pertinent to felony cases:

All Felony-related Posts

Drug Possession

Felony Assault - Assault with a Deadly Weapon

Fleeing, Eluding and Obstructing the Police

First Degree Retail Fraud and Larceny

Third Drunk Driving Conviction

Child Abuse and Neglect

Felony Marijuana Possession

Continue reading "We continue to provide public information to our readers - The Top 50 Most Frequently Charged Felonies in Michigan" »

Criminal and Traffic Jurisdiction of the 41-A District Court, Sterling Heights, Michigan

August 28, 2012,


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This is one of many blogs that our law firm has posted about the Courts where our criminal defense attorneys frequently practice in Macomb County. This is an informational public service blog about the 41-A District Court.

The 41-A District Court in Sterling Heights has jurisdiction from 14 Mile Road to M-59 and from Dequindre to Hayes. This geographical area of approximately 36 square miles contains several major Macomb County thoroughfares such as Hayes, Schoenherr, Van Dyke, Mound and Dequindre. Within Sterling Heights, you will find major shopping centers, the Lakeside Mall, major automotive factories and established residential areas. According to the 2010 US census, the city of Sterling Heights boasts a population of 129,699 and is the second largest suburb in the Metro Detroit area. For these reasons, there are three (3) judges that are needed to administer justice for the City of Sterling Heights. (GOOGLE MAP, CITY OF STERLING HEIGHTS)

The 41-A District Court has jurisdiction to handle non-criminal traffic tickets (civil infractions), criminal matters such as misdemeanors, drunk driving (OWI) and criminal traffic violations. Here is a partial list of offenses which fall under these offense classifications:

Civil Infractions: Speeding, Fail to Obey Traffic Device, Improper Turn, Careless Driving

Criminal Traffic: Drive While Suspended (DWLS), Reckless Driving, Leave Scene of Accident, Fail to Merge for Emergency Response Vehicle

Drunk Driving: Zero Tolerance, Operating While Intoxicated (DUI, OWI), Super Drunk (OWI With a High BAC over .17%)

Misdemeanors: Retail Fraud, Domestic Violence, Disorderly Conduct, MIP, Possession of Marijuana, Possession of Paraphernalia, Malicious Destruction of Property (MDOP), Larceny under $200.00

Criminal Felonies: The district court handles the initial stages of a felony which include issuance of the complaint and warrant, arraignment, bond hearings and preliminary examination. Some arraignments occur after the accused receives a letter and appears voluntarily. The court also utilizes video arraignments for persons that are in custody.

Criminal Warrant Letters: Do not panic if you receive a letter from the Sterling Heights Police directing you to surrender yourself because a criminal warrant has been issued. This would be the time to hire a lawyer if you have not already done so. Our firm has positive experience with scheduling these matters or getting the job done immediately or before a holiday weekend (we don't like to have warrants hanging over our heads over a long weekend). Ordinarily, we can get the warrant, booking, arraignment and bond addressed without any entanglements.

Legal Objectives: Civil Infractions (Traffic Tickets)
As we have mentioned in our other blogs; if you are found guilty of a civil infraction, the offense will appear on your driving record and you will receive point. The Michigan point system is used to determine high risk drivers which can result in license suspension after a person accumulates 12 or more points. In addition, points are used by insurance companies to rate drivers and raise insurance premiums. Do you think insurance companies find it in their best interest to know when a customer has a new ticket? When handling civil infractions, we attempt to reduce or avoid both points and any offense appearing on a client's record.

Legal Objectives: Criminal Cases (Misdemeanors)
If you are found guilty of a criminal offense, it will stay on your permanent criminal record. Our goal is to avoid convictions or to obtain dismissals under special provisions of Michigan laws. While nobody can insure or guarantee that a criminal record will completely disappear after the case is concluded, we will aggressively seek the best case scenario by employing delayed sentence dispositions which result in dismissals for offenses like retail fraud, HYTA for youthful offenders (age 17 but under age 21) and statutory first offender deals such as MCL 333.7411 for drug crimes and MCL 769.4a for domestic violence. Since our firm practices extensively in the 41-A District Court (Sterling Heights and the location in Shelby Township), I can say that the Judges are very receptive to outcomes which are consistent with our objectives based upon several years of experience in this jurisdiction.

The Court also has limited jurisdiction over the initial stages of felony cases which include: authorization of criminal charges, issuance of warrant, arraignment (bond) and preliminary examination. However, felony cases are ultimately resolved in the Circuit Court unless reduced to a misdemeanor in the District Court.

The 41-A District Court is located at 40111 Dodge Park, Sterling Heights, Michigan 48313, Phone: 586-446-2500. The Presiding Judges for the 41-A District Court are Judge Michael S. Maceroni, Judge Stephen S. Sierawski and Judge Kimberley A. Wiegand.


Continue reading "Criminal and Traffic Jurisdiction of the 41-A District Court, Sterling Heights, Michigan " »

Oakland Mall and Somerset Collection Retail Fraud Cases and the 52-4 District Court in Troy, Michigan

May 1, 2012,

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The City of Troy is one of Michigan's premier cities for commercial office space, hotel space, upscale housing, restaurants and retail establishments. Yet Troy remains one of the safest cities in Michigan according to a 2011 report. The government complex, located off Big Beaver Road and I-75, is where you will find the 52-4 District Court and the Troy Police Department which I can say are proactive when it comes to maintaining this reputation of Troy.

While Troy is considered a safe city as far as violent serious crimes are concerned, Troy gets it share of retail fraud cases which occur at the major retail shopping destinations which include the Oakland Mall and the Somerset Collection. These malls are among the busiest in the State of Michigan and retail fraud is not a crime that will be treated lightly by the Judges at the 52-4 District Court.

Retail fraud is classified by the degree of seriousness and whether the offender has a prior record. Retail fraud in the first degree is a felony which can carry 5 years in prison. Retail fraud in the second or third degree are misdemeanors:

Retail fraud in the second degree is a misdemeanor where the property stolen has a value of $200.00 but less than $1,000.00. It is punishable by imprisonment for not more than 1 year or a fine of not more than $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 greater, or both imprisonment and a fine.

Retail fraud in the third degree is a misdemeanor where the value of property stolen has a value less than $200.00. It is punishable by imprisonment for not more than 93 days or a fine of not more than $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 greater, or both imprisonment and a fine.

The ultimate goal which we seek for our clients is the avoidance of a retail fraud conviction. Such a conviction is a mark of dishonesty on a person's permanent criminal record. Fortunately, our experience in handling retail fraud cases in Troy has been positive as far as first offenders are concerned. The same is also true in other venues with major retail establishments where we practice including all of the district courts in Macomb County such as Sterling Heights and Clinton Township. In this regard, we attempt to utilize special provisions of law such as HYTA (Youthful Trainee Status for offenders age 17 and under age 21), Delayed Sentence (MCL 771.1) or the First Offender Program to gain a dismissal of the conviction. Absent aggravating circumstances, these provisions are available upon getting concurrence from the prosecuting attorney, probation department and the Judge at the time of sentencing.

I will explain the court process for someone who obtains a first offense misdemeanor retail fraud.

Pretrial Conference: After arraignment, a retail fraud case will be scheduled for a pretrial conference. It is at this stage where a criminal defense attorney will negotiate with the prosecuting attorney for a recommendation that the case be considered for a dismissal pursuant to one of the available provisions as I mentioned in the previous paragraph (HYTA, Delayed Sentence, First Offender Program). A disposition pursuant to this course of action will avoid trial but mean that the person will have to admit to the offense of retail fraud.

Pre-sentence Report
: After the pretrial conference, a person will be required to be interviewed by the probation department. The 52-4 District Court has its own probation department (52-4 District Court Probation Department link) located inside of the court building. Our attorneys like to have our clients well prepared for this interview because the probation department can recommend for, or against, the client getting a deal which can mean a dismissal.

Sentence: At the time of sentence, we will be able to review the report prepared by the probation department. The Judge has the final say as to whether a person will be given the opportunity to have the conviction dismissed. When the Judge grants disposition pursuant to HYTA, MCL 771.1 or the First Offender Program, an offender can expect to be placed on probation for at least one (1) year, along with fines, court costs and other conditions. Other conditions may include a retail fraud class, community service and testing for illegal substances and alcohol.

If the person complies with the conditions ordered by the Court, the conviction will be dismissed at the end of probation. Upon failure to comply, the person will face a probation violation hearing and possible sanctions which include jail and placing the conviction on one's record!


Continue reading "Oakland Mall and Somerset Collection Retail Fraud Cases and the 52-4 District Court in Troy, Michigan" »

Michigan Retail Fraud and Larceny Crimes Require an Intent to Steal. You Can Be Arrested For Larceny Even If You Have Not Left the Store!

March 16, 2012,

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Also known as shoplifting, retail fraud consists of a person intending to permanently deprive the lawful owner of the merchandise, whether by fraud or by taking. It is a common belief that you must leave the store with the merchandise in order to be charged and convicted of retail fraud/shoplifting. In truth, a person may be charged and convicted of retail fraud without ever exiting the store. In addition, other conduct which constitutes retail fraud is as follows:

  • Price tag switching
  • Altering price tags
  • Fraudulent returns
  • Swapping goods in containers with different prices

The penalties for retail fraud in Michigan are as follows:

1st Degree - Felony
$1,000 or more stolen; or
2nd degree with prior conviction

2nd Degree - Misdemeanor
Over $200, under $1,000; or
3rd degree with prior conviction

3rd Degree - Misdemeanor

Under $200

This blog will focus on whether a person can be arrested (and convicted) of retail fraud without leaving the store and discuss some trial strategies which our defense attorneys employ when contesting a retail fraud charge.

All larceny and retail fraud crimes require an "intent to steal"

The prosecutor must be prove that a person charged with a larceny or retail fraud crime had an "intent to steal." Circumstantial evidence may be used to argue the issue of "intent" when the direct facts do not fully show a specific intent to steal. The conduct of the individual may show an intentional concealment of goods when the customer claims that the taking of goods was accidental or non-intentional. What is your opinion of the person in the picture which is inserted at the top of this blog? Intentional or non-intentional? The prosecutor would assert that this behavior is consistent with dishonesty, rather than accidental conduct.


An offender does not have to leave the retail establishment to be charged with larceny or retail fraud

As described above, the intent to steal is the most important element of a larceny crime or retail fraud (in any degree). This means is that the person intended to permanently deprive the store of the merchandise, and not that the person actually leave the store with the merchandise.

According to MCL 750.365d(1)(b), the elements of the crime (retail fraud first degree) are as follows.

1. The defendant took the property for sale at the store
2. The defendant physically moved the property, although he need not leave the store with it
3. The defendant intended to steal the property (i.e. take it permanently without the store's consent
4. The defendant's actions took place inside a store or in the immediate area while the store was open for the public
5. The value of the property was between $200 and $1,000

The law itself designates that only movement of the property, coupled with the intent to steal, is all that is necessary for an individual to be convicted of retail fraud.

Preparing for a laceny or retail fraud trial

It is the goal of a criminal defense lawyer to advocate facts which support an unintentional taking of goods (accidental or inadvertent). A criminal defense attorney will explore the details of the charge and argue evidence that does not support the element of criminal intent to steal. In some cases video surveillance will be examined and the circumstances surrounding the taking carefully analyzed. Other evidence may include recent purchases by the shopper, past receipts or distractions which existed at the time the shopper took the goods. However, the prior criminal record of a person charged with larceny may be admissible in evidence under certain circumstances by the prosecutor.

Our firm has received dismissals of larceny and retail fraud cases in virtually every Macomb County District Court. Many retail fraud cases which are handled by our firm are resolved without trial and result in dismissals as we have discussed in other blogs.

Retail Fraud - Shoplifting Cases In the 41-A District Court, Sterling Heights, Utica and Shelby Township, Michigan

Retail Fraud and the 32-A District Court in Harper Woods

Handling Shoplifting Cases - Retail Fraud Cases in Clinton Township

Criminal and Traffic Jurisdiction of the 42-2 District Court, New Baltimore, Michigan