Minor exaggerations of a product or the condition of a property are often viewed as a natural part of the bargaining process while making a deal. However, false representations can lead to serious legal consequences if they are made with the intent to cheat or defraud someone. Under the law in the state of Michigan, such actions can result in charges for the crime of false pretense. A wide range of actions can lead to false pretense charges, and the criminal penalties include the potential for fines that can be financially devastating.
The Crime Of False Pretense
False pretense has been a crime in Michigan since it was added as Section 750.218 of the Michigan Penal Code in 1931. According to Section 750.218(1), the offense of false pretense occurs when an individual with the intent to defraud or cheat uses a false pretense to do one or more of the following actions:
- Cause a person to grant, convey, assign, lease, or mortgage land or an interest in land
- Obtain a person’s signature on a forged written instrument
- Obtain from a person any money or personal property or the use of any instrument, facility, article, or other valuable thing or service
- By means of false weight or measure, obtain a larger amount or quantity of property than was bargained for
- By means of false weight or measure, sell or dispose of a smaller amount or quantity of property than was bargained for
False Pretense Defined
Earlier versions of Section 750.218 made it difficult to convict defendants of false pretense when the misrepresentation of facts had to do with a false promise to do something in the future. The Michigan Legislature closed the loophole pertaining to promises of future actions in 2004 by adding Section 750.218(11), which provided the following definition for false pretense:
“…includes, but is not limited to, a false or fraudulent representation, writing, communication, statement, or message, communicated by any means to another person, that the maker of the representation, writing, communication, statement, or message knows is false or fraudulent. The false pretense may be a representation regarding a past or existing fact or circumstance or a representation regarding the intention to perform a future event or to have a future event performed.”
Elements Of A False Pretense Case
While Section 750.218 defines false pretense, Michigan courts have established that the prosecution in a false pretense case must show four elements of the crime. They are:
- A false representation as to an existing fact
- Knowledge by the defendant of the falsity of the representation
- Use of the false representation with an intent to deceive
- Detrimental reliance on the false representation by the victim
For example, if the prosecution for false pretense involved the sale of a fake piece of jewelry, it would be necessary to show that the defendant knew the jewelry was fake, intended to deceive the buyer by stating it was authentic and that the buyer purchased the jewelry based on that misrepresentation by the defendant.
Criminal Penalties For False Pretense
The criminal penalties for false pretense convictions are divided into tiers determined by the value of the land or property involved, the value of the service, or the profit or loss obtained in the transaction.
- Less than $200 – Incarceration for not more than 93 days and a fine of not more than $500
- At least $200 but less than $1,000 – Incarceration for not more than one year and a fine of not more than $2,000
- At least $1,000 but less than $20,000 – Incarceration for not more than five years and a fine of not more than $10,000
- At least $20,000 but less than $50,000 – Incarceration for not more than 15 years and a fine of not more than $15,000
- At least $50,000 but less than $100,000 – Incarceration for not more than 15 years and a fine of not more than $25,000
- Value of $100,000 or more – Incarceration for not more than 20 years and a fine of not more than $35,000
Repeat offenses can be used to elevate the potential criminal penalties to a tier that is higher than the value involved in a defendant’s current false pretense case.
Criminal Fines Of Triple The Value
One additional aspect of the potential criminal penalties for a false pretense conviction creates the potential for financial ruin. The penalties set forth in MPC 750.218 allow for the imposition of the statutory fine or a fine of triple the value involved, whichever is greater. This means that as the value involved in a false pretense conviction goes up, the potential fine of triple the value quickly surpasses the statutory fine by a large margin. If the value involved in a false pretense crime is $20,000, the maximum statutory fine is $15,000, but if the judge elects to fine the defendant triple the value, then that fine climbs to $60,000. In the highest tier, a defendant could face a potential fine of at least $300,000 while the maximum statutory fine is only $35,000.
How A Lansing Fraud Lawyer Can Help
A conviction for false pretense carries potential consequences that last far beyond a potential prison term. The conviction would brand you as someone not to be trusted and make it difficult to earn a living, while leaving you struggling to repay a fine of triple the value involved in the case. However, in order to be convicted of false pretense, it is necessary for the prosecution to prove an intent to defraud or cheat. A skilled Lansing fraud attorney can provide a solid defense to establish that you did not have the required knowledge or intent to commit the crime.
Attorney Tiffany DeBruin is a Michigan fraud attorney familiar with handling the often intricate financial details of fraud claims. She has years of experience defending her clients before the courts in Lansing and the surrounding areas while working hard to ensure the best possible outcome in each case.