Shoplifting, boosting, five-finger discount. Regardless of what you refer to it as, retail fraud is one of the most commonly seen criminal charges in our criminal justice system. The use of electronic monitoring systems and high-tech surveillance systems by stores means that shoplifters are caught much more frequently, and defending against these charges has become much more difficult for the average person. To make matters worse for someone accused of retail fraud, pressure by taxpaying store owners means that charges are aggressively pursued by law enforcement and prosecutors.
Retail fraud occurs most frequently when an individual simply steals property from a store. However, retail fraud can also involve acts of altering, transferring, removing and replacing, concealing or otherwise misrepresenting the price at which the goods or property are offered for sale. Finally, retail fraud can include attempts to obtain money or property from the store as a refund or exchange for property that was not paid for. In all of these cases the store or shop must be open for business.
The penalties for retail fraud depend heavily upon the value of the items you are accused of taking or the difference in price the goods were valued at and what was actually paid for it.
If you are accused of taking property that is valued at less than $200, then you will face charges of retail fraud — third degree, and the penalties are up to 93 days in jail, $500 in fines and/or triple the amount of the value stolen.
If you are accused of taking property that is valued between $200 and $1,000, then you will face charges of retail fraud —- second degree and up to a year in jail, fines of $2,000 and/or triple the amount of the value stolen.
If you are accused of taking property that has a value in excess of $1,000, then this constitutes a felony charge of retail fraud — first degree, and the penalties increase to a maximum of five years in jail and fines of $10,000 and/or triple the amount of the value stolen.
Michigan law also provides for penalty and charging enhancements for those who have been convicted of retail fraud in the past. For instance, if someone has a prior conviction for retail fraud in the third degree, and is charged with a second instance of stealing goods less than $200 in value, then the prosecutor can charge them with retail fraud in the second degree. Similarly, if someone has a prior conviction of retail fraud in the second degree and is charged again with stealing goods with a value between $200 and $1,000, they could potentially face a felony charge of retail fraud in the first degree.
Luckily, some jurisdictions in Michigan have enacted diversion programs that provide a second chance to those charged with retail fraud. The purpose of a diversion program is to actually remove a case from the court system and provide a method of dealing with the charges that leaves the first-time offender without a criminal record in the end. Most programs have eligibility requirements and these can vary greatly. However, if eligible the individual charged with retail fraud is typically placed on a period of probation where they can be supervised. While on probation that person is generally required to pay supervision fees and fines, make restitution, and can be required to complete classes and participate in community service. If the diversion program is successfully completed, that individual is discharged and the public record of their conviction is erased.
The benefits of not having a public record of a retail fraud conviction are obvious. Even if the jurisdiction in which you were charged does not have a formal diversion program, there may be other options, including a deferred sentence under the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act (HYTA).
If you have been charged with retail fraud and have questions regarding your eligibility for a retail fraud diversion program in Michigan or are interested in defending against retail fraud charges, call one of our experienced lawyers of McDonald Pierangeli Macfarlane, PLLC at 616-426-9609, or fill out the contact form on this site.