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Scrap metal theft is a serious offense in Michigan

On Behalf of | Jul 11, 2023 | Criminal Defense |

Metals are indispensable materials for everyday life. Most items have metal components as part of their construction or electrical wiring.

Because metals are durable and malleable, it’s possible to recover them from junk and reuse them for other things. In fact, scrap metal recovery is a very lucrative business, especially when it comes to recovering expensive and rare alloys.

But before you start digging through other people’s junk for metal bits and bobs, you should know that scrap metal theft is considered a severe crime in Michigan.

State law on scrap metal theft

According to Michigan law, the term “scrap metal” can refer to items with either ferrous or nonferrous metals that are being sold for the value of the metal they contain rather than their original purpose. This broad definition covers a lot of things, such as junk cars, broken down appliances, dilapidated furniture and so on, for as long as they contain valuable metals.

Why is scrap metal theft an issue?

As mentioned earlier, scrap metals can be expensive. Parts and components such as copper wiring, the catalytic converters of automobiles or the evaporator coils of air conditioners sell for as much as $1,500 because of their precious materials. Because scrap dealers are willing to pay such high prices, some unscrupulous individuals might steal parts from other peoples’ items and appliances to make a quick buck. Legitimate scrap sellers dealing with these items may be flagged for being suspicious.

It’s also illegal under state law to sell metal scrapped from restricted items like railways, traffic signs, streetlamps and manhole covers. This law can catch some scrap sellers unaware, especially if they try to sell a random piece of metal they found on the street, only for a dealer to identify the part as a restricted material.

Penalties for scrap metal theft

The penalties you can face for scrap metal theft depend on the total value of the metal allegedly stolen. If the full value of the stolen scrap metal was less than $200, you potentially face a criminal misdemeanor conviction. The conviction carries a maximum imprisonment period of 93 days and a fine of up to $500 or three times the value of the stolen metal, whichever is higher.

The most severe penalties await those who allegedly stole over $20,000 worth of scrap metal. You’ll face a felony conviction punishable by a maximum 10-year prison sentence and a fine of up to $15,000 or three times the value of the stolen metal, whichever is bigger.

The punishments for scrap metal theft are costly and leave the convicted with a criminal record that could hurt their employment chances. If you face charges, having a legal professional at hand might be helpful to understand your rights better and challenge the accusations in court.