Retail fraud can be prosecuted under either State law or ordinances that are enacted by cities, townships, or villages. Under either State law or ordinances switching the price tag to obtain a cheaper price is prosecuted as retail fraud.
How do people get caught committing this offense?
- Loss prevention sometimes observes an individual changing the price tag.
- When the item is scanned or rang up, sometimes the error is discovered and an investigation takes place.
- The door checker may catch the discrepancy when reviewing the receipt, leading to an investigation.
Michigan compiled law 750.356d(1)(a) provides that if someone, when a store is open to the public, misrepresents the sales price with either the intent to not pay for the property or pay for it at a lessor price, is guilty of retail fraud. Local ordinances usually contain similar language.
Retail fraud can be prosecuted as either a misdemeanor or felony depending upon how the case is prosecuted, the price of the merchandise, or the person’s prior record. Cases prosecuted under local ordinance are 93 day maximum misdemeanors.
Under State law in Michigan retail fraud involving merchandise with a total price under $200 is also a 93 day misdemeanor (this offense is known as Retail Fraud 3rd Degree). However, if the person has a prior theft conviction, the penalty can be enhanced under State law to a 1 year maximum misdemeanor (this offense is known as Retail Fraud 2nd Degree).
In Michigan retail fraud in which the merchandise has a price of at least $200 but less than $1000 it is usually prosecuted under State law as a 1 year maximum misdemeanor (as Retail Fraud 2nd Degree). However, if the person has a prior theft conviction, the offense can be prosecuted as a felony that carries a 4 year maximum penalty (Retail Fraud 1st Degree). Moreover, if the person has a prior high misdemeanor or felony record he or she may be subject to habitual offender sentencing.
Felony Retail Fraud in Michigan also occurs when the merchandise has a total price of $1000 or more (Retail Fraud 1st Degree). For any retail fraud in Michigan, pursuant to MCL 750.356d(6) the values of the difference in price, property stolen, or money or property obtained or attempted to be obtained in separate incidents pursuant to a scheme or course of conduct within any 12-month period may be aggregated to determine the total value involved in the offense. This basically means that if there is a pattern within 1 year of changing price tags, all those incidents can be added together to determine the crime. Hence, it is possible that multiple misdemeanor retail fraud incidents involving price tag switches can be added together, and if the amount is high enough, the case could be prosecuted as a more serious retail fraud offense.
Another form of Felony Retail Fraud occurs when the person’s intent for stealing is to resell the items (Organized Retail Fraud, which carries a maximum penalty of 4 years in prison).
Again, for any felony offense the person may be subject to habitual offender sentencing.
Sometimes a customer will get a lower price for an innocent reason. Perhaps another customer previously changed the price tag which was unwittingly picked up by another shopper. Sometimes there are errors by the store in pricing, or with how items are entered into the computer system. Sometimes scanning errors occur. Not every error results in a criminal case, because it is the intent of the shopper that is the issue when it comes to a criminal prosecution.
Whether or not a person is guilty or innocent of retail fraud, the next step is always the same. The person needs to hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer that regularly defends retail fraud cases. Any lawyer will not do. A retail fraud conviction can impact your freedom, your reputation, your ability to find or keep a great job, your ability to obtain loans, and your ability to travel. If you are not a United States citizen, a retail fraud conviction can impact your immigration status. Do not discuss your case with anyone but your lawyer, and only when you are in a private location. Your best bet is to hire a lawyer that specializes in retail fraud defense, such as attorney Daniel Hilf of Hilf & Hilf, PLC.