Michigan Retail Fraud FAQs

Retail Fraud FAQs - Shoplifting in Michigan

How serious is retail fraud?

Shoplifting is more severe than you might guess. In addition to the possible direct consequences, such as jail, probation, and a criminal record. A retail fraud conviction can cause the loss of employment (or difficulty obtaining employment), suspension of a professional license, difficulty getting loans, damaged reputation, loss of firearm rights, etc.

How long does retail fraud stay on your record in Michigan?

A retail fraud conviction stays on a person’s criminal history for years unless they successfully petition for expungement or negotiate a plea agreement to dismiss the charges. Even when the evidence of guilt is overwhelming, there are options for plea negotiations that can prevent a conviction from entering into the defendant’s criminal history.

What is the penalty for shoplifting in Michigan?

The penalties for shoplifting range from 93 days to five (5) years in prison, depending on the value of the merchandise and the offender’s prior criminal history. As the value of the merchandise increases the degree of retail fraud becomes more severe. The penalty is likewise enhanced if the defendant has one or more prior shoplifting convictions.

Is shoplifting a felony or misdemeanor in Michigan?

Shoplifting can be a felony or misdemeanor, depending on the value of the merchandise and if the accused has prior retail fraud convictions. A prosecutor can enhance a minor offense to a felony if the person has one or more prior convictions.

What are the consequences of shoplifting?

The direct consequences can be jail, probation, and a criminal conviction. The indirect effects include difficulty obtaining or keeping employment, loss of civil rights, immigration consequences, damaged reputation, and more. It is essential that a criminal defense lawyer do everything possible to avoid a conviction and jail time.

Is shoplifting a big deal?

Yes, it is a big deal. Taking a retail fraud charge lightly would be a regrettable mistake. Judges and prosecutors treat these matters seriously because shoplifting causes significant financial damage to the community. Stores and the retail community constantly push for harsh penalties and criminal convictions. The long-term consequences of a conviction can have a meaningful impact on someone’s life.

Can a non-U.S. citizen be deported because of retail fraud?

Retail fraud, even a first-offense misdemeanor, is considered a Crime of Moral Turpitude (CMT). If you are charged with shoplifting, you face the possibility of deportation, removal, or inability to re-enter the United States. Knowledgeable defense lawyers, who are aware and cognizant of immigration consequences, will know how to negotiate for alternative resolutions with less or no impact on immigration matters or a petition for naturalization to become a U.S. citizen.

If I am stopped for shoplifting and released, will I have to go to court?

For various reasons, an accused shoplifter is caught but released by loss prevention officers or police officers. Sometimes the person is given a ticket, but not always. In these cases, the prosecutor charges the accused with a retail fraud charge on a later date, and the court will issue an arrest warrant. Frequently, the court will send the defendant a letter advising them of the issuance of the warrant; however, these notices tend to get lost or are never sent by the clerk resulting in an arrest when the defendant least expects. Anyone in this situation should hire an attorney immediately who can watch for the warrant, prevent their client’s arrest, and attempt to negotiate with the prosecutor for lesser or no formal charges before the warrant is issued. The worst thing someone can do under these circumstances is to do nothing and wait to see what happens. Invariably, a skilled defense lawyer could have improved the situation but loses the opportunity to do so when the client waits for the charge to be filed in court.

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What happens to a first-time shoplifter?

A skilled, experienced defense lawyer can seek leniency for a first-time offender, such as a delayed sentence or plea under advisement. A reputable and influential attorney can help clients avoid jail and a conviction with a robust defense.

What happens when you go to court for shoplifting?

It is best to retain a private lawyer to defend you and protect you during all court hearings if possible. Typical hearings in a retail fraud case include arraignment (when the judge sets the bail), pretrials, docket conferences, plea hearings, trials, and sentencing. Don’t trust your fate with the lowest bidder when your future and freedom are at stake.

Will someone get bail on a shoplifting charge?

The first hearing on a felony or misdemeanor retail fraud is an arraignment. At the arraignment, the judge or magistrate will read the charges, accept a guilty or not guilty plea, and set bail. So long as the defendant has little or no prior criminal history, the bond will ordinarily be personal recognizance or a low cash bond. Going to court for arraignment with legal representation is always better than going it alone.

Am I innocent if I never left the store with the items?

For a retail fraud charge, the person who took the property does not have to leave the store or even attempt to leave the store. It is enough for a conviction if a defendant moved the property intending to steal or if they switched price tags. Any movement of the item is enough for a shoplifting charge.

What happens to my charge if I did not intend to steal merchandise offered for sale?

In many cases, the person charged with retail fraud had no intent to steal and merely made a thoughtless mistake. People under acute stress or anxiety can thoughtlessly walk past a cash register and be unaware they had merchandise or failed to pay. Most people charged with shoplifting are educated, honest people without any prior criminal history. In these cases, we have frequently discovered that our client was under tremendous stress at work or home and made a careless or impulsive mistake. If a criminal defense lawyer has an excellent reputation and substantial credibility, they may be able to convince a prosecutor to dismiss retail fraud charges under such circumstances.

Is jail more likely for felony 1st-degree retail fraud?

Because felony retail fraud is punishable by up to five (5) years in prison, judges are more likely to consider incarceration as part of a defendant’s sentence; however, jail is not mandatory. Judges and prosecutors have differing attitudes and proclivities, and the chances of jail hinge on the court, facts of the case, assigned judge, and circumstances and history of the defendant. If a defendant has prior felony convictions, the maximum sentence can increase to a maximum of 15 years. Experienced retail fraud defense lawyers can often persuade a sentencing judge to consider a probationary sentence instead of incarceration.

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Can I get my retail fraud charges dismissed if I took the items by accident?

It probably does not come as a surprise that most people charged with retail fraud claim that their actions were accidental or thoughtless. Because a prosecutor cannot know what was on a person’s mind, it can be difficult to prove that intentionally they took or moved an item from a store. Intent can be established by looking at how a person acted, what they did, and what, if anything, was said. An experienced retail fraud defense lawyer gets charges dismissed by persuading the prosecutor to see an alternative interpretation of the situation. A reputable, respected lawyer has the best odds of effectively arguing for charges to be thrown out of court.

Are most people who commit retail fraud dishonest or bad people?

No, most people who face retail fraud charges are not dishonest or bad people. Individuals charged with retail fraud often have no prior record. They often have professional or post-graduate degrees and are financially stable. Most retail theft charges stem from impulsive or thoughtless acts by individuals under extreme stress or anxiety, depression, or overwhelming life challenges. Our lawyers will never judge you. If you choose us to represent you, we will ensure you are treated with dignity and respect. In these cases, our job is to convince the judge to focus on rehabilitation instead of punishment.

What is the penalty for retail fraud?

The possible sentence for a retail fraud conviction depends on the value of the merchandise taken and if the defendant has a prior record. If the value is under $200 (Retail Fraud 3rd Degree), the charge is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 93 days in jail. If the value is between $200 and $1,000 (Retail Fraud 2nd Degree), the possible jail sentence is up to 1 year. In cases where the value is over $1,000, the charge is a felony, Retail Fraud 1st Degree, with a maximum possible sentence of up to 5 years in prison.

A misdemeanor sentence can include up to 2 years of probation, and a felony can result in up to 5 years of probation. Fines can be as high as $10,000! If a person has prior retail fraud convictions, the penalty and seriousness of the offense can become more severe.

How much does it cost to hire a lawyer for retail fraud?

You can find retail fraud defense lawyers in various price ranges. New lawyers, those struggling for business, multi-practice attorneys, and public defenders doing retained side-work, often charge discounted fees. Like most things in life, “you get what you pay for.” Lawyers charge fees commensurate with their experience, reputation, track record of success, specialization, and other factors. It is always best to talk with several lawyers and meet them if possible. The consequences of retail fraud can negatively impact the accused’s life. Such an important decision deserves serious consideration. An attorney should be fair and affordable; however, you should not trust your fate to the lowest bidder. Try to think about the “cost” question in reverse. Ask yourself, “what will might it cost me in terms of money and stress if I get a bad result because I didn’t hire the best lawyer available?”

Call us today at (248) 263-6800 for a free consultation or complete an online Request for Assistance Form. We will contact you promptly and find a way to help you.

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