Taking one or two items from a store without paying can lead to severe punishments. Shoplifting—called “retail fraud” in Michigan—is a serious crime with serious penalties. If you or your child have been accused, please contact George Law today. An experienced Michigan shoplifting attorney at George Law can review the legal charges, gather evidence, and defend your rights.
What Is The Best Defense Against Retail Fraud Charges?
The best defense is the one that is supported by facts. An attorney should carefully review the charges and evidence against you. At George Law, we avoid “off the rack” defenses that might not be relevant to your case.
What Defenses Do You Normally Raise For Your Clients?
In our experience, we have had the most success bringing the following defenses:
- Lack of intent;
- Mistaken identity; and
Lack Of Intent
Retail fraud requires the intent to deprive the store of ownership of the goods. This essentially means that you intended to steal the goods.
If you lacked that intent, you shouldn’t be prosecuted. For example, imagine you put something on the bottom of your shopping cart and forgot to pay as you went through checkout. This is a simple mistake. You did not intend to take the item from the store, so you have not committed shoplifting.
A similar thing can happen if you are shopping with a basket or cart and go outside to look at items in front of the store. You did not intend to take the items home without paying—you simply stepped outside to look at an item.
Finally, another person in the store might have hidden an item by placing it in another item. For example, you might pick up a toolbox, which has a hammer inside. But if you didn’t place the hammer inside, you shouldn’t be convicted of shoplifting.
In other situations, some stores do not have adequate or any surveillance systems to identify individuals charged with shoplifting. If you have been charged and a surveillance recording cannot identify you, there may be reasonable doubt that you committed the crime.
Ownership – The Item Is Yours
The store might be confused about whether the item in your purse or backpack belongs to you or the store. For example, you might be shopping for a new phone charger because your current one no longer works. You bring your current charger with you to remind you which charger you need to purchase. A store worker might assume the charger you put back in your bag belongs to the store and not you.
Can The Store Detain Me On Suspicion Of Shoplifting?
Temporarily, yes. This is called the ”shopkeeper’s privilege.” Normally, anyone who restrains you has violated your rights. But shopkeepers have the right to temporarily detain someone they reasonably suspect has committed retail fraud. This does not mean that the store can use violence to subdue you or hold you indefinitely.
What Should I Do If I’m Detained?
We recommend doing the following to give yourself the best chance of beating these charges:
- Stop if asked. Running makes you look guilty. Also, you might suffer enhanced penalties for interfering with the administration of justice if you flee.
- Don’t fight. Avoid getting into a physical altercation with store staff. This also makes you look guilty—and dangerous to boot.
- Say as little as possible. Unless you have a very simple explanation—such as, “This item is mine”—then it doesn’t make sense to answer too many questions.
- Contact an attorney if the police arrest you. An attorney can help defend you.
The prosecutor needs to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Unfortunately, those accused of crimes can unintentionally make incriminating statements. These statements can prove guilt more easily.
Can The Charges Against Me Be Reduced?
Possibly. Michigan created levels of retail fraud based on the value of the allegedly stolen goods:
- Third-degree: goods valued at less than $200;
- Second-degree: goods valued between $200-$1,000; and
- First-degree: goods valued over $1,000.
The differences in punishment are severe. If you are convicted of second-degree shoplifting, you can face up to one year in jail. However, if convicted of first-degree shoplifting, you can face felony charges, which can mean up to five years in prison. Penalties can also include hefty fines.
Sometimes we can argue that the prosecutor has not properly valued the goods. This works best when you have been accused of stealing second-hand goods, which the prosecutor might claim are worth more than they really are.
Can I Pay Back What I Stole And Avoid Punishment?
If you have already been charged with shoplifting, returning the items or paying the store is a good first step. The prosecutor might completely drop the charges. However, returning items or paying the store is not a guarantee that charges will go away. Still, we can help you use your positive actions to your advantage.
Is Diversion An Option For Me?
It might be. Diversion programs are alternative to normal punishments and include more community and therapeutic support systems. Those under 17 are more likely to be charged with juvenile shoplifting and have the option of entering a diversion program. The program takes about six months to complete.
Do I Need A Lawyer For Third-Degree Shoplifting Charges?
This is the least serious charge, so many people think they don’t need legal help. However, third-degree shoplifting is still a misdemeanor, and you could still face 93 days in jail or a fine if convicted. Furthermore, a criminal conviction can impact your life going forward. You might lose out on job opportunities because of a misdemeanor conviction.
There is no reason to automatically admit guilt to a third-degree shoplifting charge. Instead, meet with an attorney to discuss your best defense.
Contact A Michigan Retail Fraud Attorney For More Information
George Law is committed to helping anyone facing shoplifting charges and is ready to help you build your best defense. Call us today at 248-278-7652 or contact us online. Our consultations are confidential and free.