Judges have heard it a million times before: “I didn’t intent to steal anything”
In this publication, we discuss how a retail fraud offense can be dismissed for eligible offenders in the Macomb County District Courts. In addition, we warn you that an opportunity to get a dismissal can be lost by saying the wrong thing to the prosecutor or the judge such as, “it was an accident” or “I didn’t intend to steal anything and had the money in my purse to pay for it.”
Places where retail fraud cases are prevalent, some common variable in retail fraud cases
Retail fraud cases are on the rise and are always one of the most frequently charged misdemeanor offenses in the Macomb County District Courts where we practice extensively. While every court in Macomb and Oakland County sees its fair share of retail fraud cases, the courts which are located in regions with shopping malls, major retailers (Target, Kohl’s, Walmart, Home Depot, Meijer) and major shopping corridors have the greatest number of retail fraud cases on their dockets for obvious reasons. While each offender has a different reason for committing the offense of retail fraud, some of the common variables that we are seeing in our Macomb County retail fraud cases (especially retail fraud 3rd degree/under $200.00) are as follows:
- Isolated Incident: Our typical client charged with retail fraud is a female without any prior record.
- Merchandise such as lingerie and cosmetics are are popular items taken by because they are more easily concealable.
- We are seeing more retail fraud crimes by attempting to deceive self-checkout bar code scanners.
- Many of our clients who have been accused of retail fraud have made legitimate purchases at the same time while at the retail establishment.
- The value of the property taken is under $200.00.
Retail fraud = concealing property, changing price tags, knowingly paying less than true price, defeating bar-code scanners
Retail fraud usually involves the act of taking property, usually by concealment, from a retail establishment without paying for it. It may also involve changing price tags, paying less than the actual price by engaging in conduct to defraud the establishment or by attempting to defeat a bar-code scanner at the point of purchase. The degrees and penalties for retail fraud are as follows:
Retail fraud penalties: Prior record of offender may increase penalty; possible felony charges
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.
- 1st Degree Retail Fraud, Felony: Maximum Penalty: Up to 5 years in prison, $10,000.00 fine, court costs. Value of Property or Money: $1,000.00 or more
- 2nd Degree Retail Fraud: Misdemeanor: Maximum Penalty: 1 year jail, $2,000.00 fine, court costs. Value of Property or Money: $200.00 but less than $1,000.00
- 3rd Degree Retail Fraud: Misdemeanor: Maximum Penalty: 93 days jail, $500.00 fine, court costs. Value of Property or Money: Under $200.00
Triple Penalty: In addition to the above penalties, the court has the option to impose a fine, or a penalty up to 3x the amount of property or money attempted to be misappropriated, whichever is greater.
Civil Demand Letter: The retail business may send a letter requesting up to $200.00 from the alleged offender even before the case is within the court system. The criminal retail fraud matter will not be dropped just because this amount is paid. The civil demand for money and the criminal proceedings are separate and distinct matters.
Some reasons that someone commits shoplifting or retail fraud, impulsive behavior
In 2016, 22,639 retail fraud crimes were reported in the State of Michigan. This number is broken down by gender (Males reported: 12,046, Females: 10,593) and by age groups. The breakdown of retail fraud incidents by age groups for 2016:
- Juveniles Under Age 17: 1,760
- Ages 17-24: 5,721
- Ages 25-29: 2,541
- Ages 30-34: 1,886
- Ages 35-39: 1,503
- Ages 40-44: 1,026
- Ages 45-49: 1,064
- Ages 50-54: 887
- Ages 55-59: 590
- Ages 60-64: 306
- Ages 65 and up: 202
There are some reoccurring reasons as to “why” a person commits a retail fraud offense. Shoplifting is not limited to those that are downtrodden and underprivileged. In general, our clients are usually the kind of people that have never been in trouble and their conduct can be described as an isolated incident. In extreme cases, we have also represented those that suffer from a compulsive shoplifting disorder. It is our job to work with our clients to understand why a client engaged in risky behavior so that we can provide effective legal representation and solutions.
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 behavior is not limited to juveniles or youthful offenders. Our Macomb County criminal defense lawyers have represented individuals in every age group and every walk-of life including senior citizens and mini-van-moms who site impulsiveness as a reason for committing an act of retail fraud.
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.
Macomb County Courts: Getting a second chance!
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.
- Cooperation with authorities.
- 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. At some point during the legal proceedings, the offender will be judicially interrogated. Saying the wrong thing to the prosecutor or the judge can result in permanant conviction. The guidance of a criminal defense lawyer can make a huge difference in whether the offender gets stuck in the system or gets a second chance for a dismissal. In the following Macomb County District Courts, a plea bargain with a disposition for a dismissal is feasible for first offenders charged with retail fraud 3rd degree:
- 37th District Court (Warren and Centerline)
- 38th District Court (Eastpointe)
- 39th District Court (Roseville, Fraser)
- 41-A District Court (Sterling Heights Division)
- 41-A District Court (Shelby Twp, Utica, Macomb Township)
- 41-B District Court (Clinton Twp, Mount Clemens, Harrison Township)
- 42-1 District Court (Romeo, Washington Township, Richmond)
- 42-2 District Court, (Chesterfield Twp, New Baltimore, New Haven, Lenox)
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 avoid jail and a felony conviction. Our experience has been that most retail fraud cases are resolved favorably by knowing our courts and knowing our clients.