American media likes to portray shoplifting – called retail fraud in Michigan – as a minor offense that every teenager commits at some point. However, retail fraud convictions come with serious consequences. If you are caught shoplifting more than once, the penalties could be even higher.
Michigan Retail Fraud Law
Michigan laws against retail fraud apply whenever a person intentionally:
- Changes or conceals the price of an item in an effort to pay less.
- Takes an item from a store without paying.
- Defrauding a store into giving him or her money or property in exchange for items not purchased at that store.
This can involve switching price tags, stashing unpaid-for items in a bag or under a coat, or buying items in one store and returning them to another store. (Some larger chains or franchises allow exchanges at any location, but most will not exchange goods from a competitor.)
Michigan retail fraud is charged in one of three different degrees. For a first offense, the severity of the charges and penalties depend on the value of the merchandise taken:
- Retail Fraud 3rd Degree applies to property worth less than $200. It is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 93 days in jail and up to $500 in fines, or 3 times the value of goods or money stolen, whichever is greater.
- Retail Fraud 2nd Degree applies to property worth between $200 and $1,000 dollars. It Is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 1 year in jail and up to $2,000 in fines, or 3 times the value of goods or money stolen, whichever is greater.
- Retail Fraud 1st Degree applies to property worth more than $1,000. It is a felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines, or 3 times the value of goods or money stolen, whichever is greater.
What Happens If You Are Caught Shoplifting Again
Whether it is done to support a drug habit, in response to some mental health challenge, or simply as the result of poverty, some people choose to shoplift again and again. Perhaps they are hoping to learn from their mistakes and not be caught a second time. Maybe they feel they have no other choice. However, if you are caught shoplifting again, the penalties for that second or subsequent offense can accumulate quickly.
First, each retail fraud charge after the first can be augmented to the next degree up the list. So, for example, if a person has a habit of stealing bottles of hard liquor, most items will fall below the $200 value threshold, suggesting a Retail Fraud 3rd Degree charge. However, after the first conviction, if a defendant is caught shoplifting again, he or she can be charged with the more severe Retail Fraud 2nd Degree. Similarly, Retail Fraud 2nd Degree can be augmented to the felony Retail Fraud 1st Degree if the person has a prior retail fraud conviction.
A person’s prior criminal history also affects the sentencing of a given charge. The above limits are the top end of any sentence for that particular level of offense. First offenders often receive much lower sentences, especially when they hire an experienced criminal defense attorney to contest the charges. However, when facing a second or subsequent offense, that prior criminal conviction will influence the judge (or the sentencing recommendation for felony charges) and potentially increase the chances of more jail time and high fines and costs.
How A Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help
Michigan prosecuting attorneys have significant discretion in deciding how to charge criminal defendants, and whether to offer settlements. An experienced criminal defense attorney can often negotiate on your behalf to eliminate “habitual” charges an reduce the severity of the conviction. They can also negotiate limits on sentencing in a plea deal – called a Cobbs plea – so that if a judge would impose more than the agreed upon limit the plea can be withdrawn and the case can go to trial.
In other cases, problems with the prosecutor’s case, or with how the police handled the investigation, can create legal defenses that will result in a Not Guilty verdict at trial. An experienced criminal defense attorney can spot these defenses and advise you whether to accept a plea or take the matter to court.