Michigan law refers to shoplifting as retail fraud. You might also hear it called retail theft. Whatever the colloquial term, the offense refers to taking property from a store without paying or conducting some other act that enables you to unlawfully obtain a discount on one or more items of the store, such as switching tags.
If you have been accused of shoplifting in any form, you need to speak with an attorney as soon as possible. Any shoplifting charges should be taken seriously, even if the allegedly stolen items are worth very little or the offense is a misdemeanor. A shoplifting conviction on your record could hold you back in school and work, leading to far harsher consequences than you might expect.
Shoplifting In Michigan
Michigan breaks down retail fraud into a first, second and third degree depending on the money or value of the property that was allegedly unlawfully obtained.
First-Degree Retail Fraud
Under MCL 750.356c, you can be charged with first-degree shoplifting if, while in a store open to the public, you steal more than $1,000 worth of property, or you alter, transfer, remove, conceal or otherwise misrepresent the price of an item for sale with the intent to pay less or not pay for the property, and the difference between the price and what you pay is at least $1,000. You may also be charged with this offense if you, with the intent to defraud, obtain a refund or exchange for property that was not originally paid for and obtain $1,000 or more.
If you are accused of retail fraud in the first degree, you will be charged with a felony. Upon conviction, you can be imprisoned for up to five years and fined up to $10,000 or three times the value of the property or money illegally obtained, whichever is greater.
Second-Degree Retail Fraud
MCL 750.356d(1) states you may be charged with shoplifting in the second degree if you steal money or property worth between $200 and $1,000, or you in some way misrepresent the price and the difference between what you pay, or do not pay, and the accurate price is at least $200 but less than $1,000. You may also face this misdemeanor offense if you return or exchange property you did not pay for and receive or try to obtain a value between $200 and $1,000.
This misdemeanor may be punished with incarceration up to one year and a fine reaching $2,000 or three times the value you obtained, whichever amount is greater.
Third-Degree Retail Fraud
You may face a misdemeanor charge for stealing less than $200 worth of property or money from a store, based on MCL 750.356d(4). You can also be charged with shoplifting in the third degree if you alter, transfer or somehow misrepresent the price of an item to avoid paying for it or to pay a lesser amount, and the price difference is less than $200. Also, you may be charged with this if you exchange or return the property you did not lawfully pay for and you received or tried to receive a value of up to $200.
For third-degree shoplifting, you can be imprisoned for up to 93 days and fined $500 or three times the value you obtained.
Examples Of Shoplifting
You may face retail fraud charges for a variety of actions such as:
- Hiding items in your purse, book bag or pocket when no one is looking.
- Removing security tags or sensors from items.
- Switching price tags on items.
- Placing sales tags on items that do not have reduced prices.
- Taking items into a changing room in order to remove security tags or hide them on your person.
- Coordinate with an employee to remove inventory from a store.
- Trick an employee into looking another way or conducting other tasks so you may take items.
- Return items you or an accomplice stole in exchange for store credit or cash.
Multiple Shoplifting Incidents May Be Combined
If you are accused of shoplifting multiple times within a 12-month period, the prosecution can combine the value you illegally obtained in each incident. This increases the likelihood of being charged with a more serious offense or a felony. A few items stolen over the course of a year could quickly add up to more than $200 or more than $1,000. Instead of facing multiple misdemeanor charges for shoplifting in the third or second degree, you could face a charge for first-degree retail theft. When prosecutors have evidence that you have conducted a retail theft scheme, you are more likely to face years in prison, if convicted.
Collateral Consequences Of A Shoplifting Conviction
If you are convicted of retail theft in Michigan, you may face numerous hurdles after you complete your punishment. You may have a hard time getting into the college or university you want if you must declare a criminal conviction on an application. Upon admittance to college, you may have trouble obtaining private scholarships and grants.
No matter your age, a shoplifting charge could make it difficult to get a job. Restaurants, retail stores, delivery positions and warehouses may not trust you with their goods and cash. They may worry you are a repeat offender and cost their business money. Even if you are not going to be directly in contact with goods or cash, a potential employer may simply not trust you.
If you are convicted of felony shoplifting, the damage to your reputation will be more severe. You will likely face a greater challenge in school and work. You could be prohibited from obtaining certain professional licenses or have a hard time being approved due to ethical concerns. A felony conviction also makes it illegal for you to own firearms.
Let DeBruin Law, PLLC Defend You
When you are facing shoplifting charges, whether it is a misdemeanor or felony offense, your best chance at avoiding a conviction or a harsh punishment is by working with an experienced lawyer. At DeBruin Law, PLLC, your Lansing shoplifting attorney will review every detail of your case to determine the strongest defense strategy. Depending on the circumstances, your lawyer may fight for an acquittal at trial or focus on minimizing the consequences of a conviction. Potential defenses include arguing you lacked the necessary intent to steal and that there is insufficient evidence that you committed the offense.
Your lawyer may also negotiate a plea bargain with the prosecutor, particularly if it is possible for you to obtain an alternative punishment to incarceration such as probation, community service and restitution.