Retail fraud convictions can have many bad consequences in a person’s life. Incarceration, probation with harsh and expensive conditions, loss of employment, damage to reputation, immigration problems for aliens, potential travel visa prohibitions, difficulties obtaining student and personal loans, professional licensing problems, fear, anxiety – the list of problems go on and on.
All of this for something petty, like shoplifting? It was impulsive? Prosecuted for a one time occurrence? It wasn’t planned? I offered to pay for the merchandise? I am not a bad person. Other people do it, I just got caught? It was a mistake, an accident? Against a corporation – why should a wealthy corporation care about something like this? I have a problem and I need help – not a conviction? Am I going to jail? If I am not a United States citizen, will I be deported or denied reentry to the United States? Will this effect my career? What will my family think? What happens next? How do I get out from under all of this?
Obviously, the fundamental key to the problem is to have the right legal representation.
However, before there is the involvement of a lawyer, there is an arrest or an accusation. Before engaging a lawyer, it is important not to compound your problems. Things that may compound your problems include being aggressive or hostile, fighting with loss prevention and/or the police, running from loss prevention and/or the police, providing incriminating statements verbally or in writing against yourself to loss prevention and the police, lying to police officers, disobeying no trespass notices issued by the store. Depending upon the circumstances, this can compound your problems because they may lead the prosecution to consider additional or more serious charges, cause the prosecution to not negotiate a resolution or to be less generous in plea negotiations, or undermine potential defenses that you have.
Once you are accused or arrested, it is time to lawyer up! An experienced and respected retail fraud defense lawyer is critical in a number of different aspects. First, your lawyer will give you great advice. Second, your lawyer will give you the peace of mind to know that everything is being done to help your situation. Third, if you have a lawyer (and you let the police know you have a lawyer) you are not supposed to be questioned without his or her presence. Fourth, your lawyer will help you try to obtain a reasonable bond with reasonable bond conditions. Fifth, your lawyer will obtain all the discovery to determine the best possible defenses or approaches to the case. The discovery materials often include police report(s), loss prevention report(s), photographs, in store video(s), recorded statement(s), evidence of the value of the merchandise, etc. Defenses may include (but are not limited to) violations of your rights, mental health related issues, and lack of sufficient and credible evidence in order to convict. Sixth, your lawyer may be able to negotiate a favorable resolution with the prosecution and/or the Judge to place you in a better position. Seventh, your lawyer can fight the charge at trial to try and obtain an acquittal. Eighth, your lawyer can pursue potential sentencing options (if convicted) to help you reduce your punishment and consequences.
Consider the fee that you pay your lawyer to be an investment in your future. There are no time machines – you cannot unring a bell – you cannot undo the damage if you proceed on your own, or proceed with substandard legal representation.
Now, what can be done to avoid a shoplifting conviction?
- If you are not charged, you cannot be convicted. Do not help loss prevention and law enforcement with their case against you. You have a 5th Amendment privilege against self incrimination. You have a right to legal representation. Do not sell yourself out. I do not suggest lying. Telling a lie to a police officer is a criminal offense. However, you are not obligated to provide a verbal or written statement about what you allegedly did. Bear in mind that there are also some stores that do not cooperate with police with prosecutions. If the store chooses not to seek prosecution, do not tempt fate and expect to be treated the same way in the future by returning to the scene of the alleged crime. The best way to avoid a charge is obviously to not commit the crime (although, innocent people are in courtrooms every day fighting against a false charge or charges).
- If you have a problem with shoplifting, get professional help to avoid committing the offense before it is too late. Mental health counseling. Shoplifters anonymous support groups. Substance abuse counseling (if retail fraud is a means of supporting an addiction). If you steal from a store, you will eventually get caught. If you have a loved one with a problem with shoplifting, try to help them before they get caught by seeking professional counseling or other non-law enforcement intervention.
- If you are not guilty, or if the case against you is weak, you should fight the case. Not every retail fraud is intentional. Sometimes a person does not realize that merchandise wasn’t scanned. Maybe your child took something that you didn’t realize, and now you stand accused? Maybe you had a “brain fart” and it did not occur to you that you took an unpaid item with you from the store? Some persons with mental health issues might not be able to formulate the intent necessary to commit the crime. Only an experienced lawyer can properly review the evidence, (or lack of evidence), and assess potential defenses. You need a lawyer to deal with the pressure and stress that a prosecutor or Court might place on you to resolve your case through a guilty plea – even if you are not guilty or the case is weak.
- Some (not all) jurisdictions have diversion programs. The diversion program is a form of rehabilitation which, if you successfully complete it, you will not have a criminal conviction. The rehabilitation may include paying money, performing community service, obtaining counseling, remaining drug and crime free, writing an essay, etc. If you are not a United States citizen, you should consult with an immigration lawyer before you resolve your case (through a diversion program or otherwise). Some diversion programs require admissions that can be used against an alien in immigration proceedings.
- Some (not all) jurisdictions have other programs that can lead to a dismissal of the charge or suppression of the conviction record, if successfully completed. These programs are sometimes based upon the age of the Defendant, mental health issues, drug/alcohol issues, and prior military service. In some jurisdictions a Judge can delay sentencing, and dismiss the charge upon successful completion of probation. Your lawyer should be able to tell you if this option is possible for your case.
- Plea bargaining is (in some jurisdictions) a way to avoid a retail fraud conviction. Some prosecutors will negotiate with defense counsel to dismiss a retail fraud charge, if the defendant enters a guilty or no contest plea to a less serious charge (such as disorderly person or disorderly conduct). A non theft related conviction may be better for employment and immigration purposes than being convicted as charged. Again, for aliens get advice from an immigration lawyer before you resolve your case. Even a conviction to a reduced charge can cause immigration problems.
If you are convicted of retail fraud, how can that conviction be undone? The options may include seeking relief from the Court where your conviction occurred (such as a motion for relief from judgment), pursuing an appeal (if eligible), petitioning for an expungement (if eligible), or requesting a pardon (which is almost impossible to obtain). All of these options require the assistance of an experienced lawyer to pursue the desired relief on your or a loved one’s behalf.
If you are facing a retail fraud accusation, have a court date, or are seeking a relief from your conviction the answer is the same. The smart decision is to have the best possible legal representation possible in your time of need. It is important to remember that the information in this blog is general in nature, and may (or may not) apply to your particular situation. The laws in different States, cities, and jurisdiction often vary when it comes to the prosecution of retail fraud accusations and relief for the same. Some prosecutor’s offices are reasonable and compassionate; others are zealous and uncaring. The solution to any shoplifting case is to lawyer up at the earliest possible moment!
The recommended attorney for all retail fraud charges throughout the State of Michigan is attorney Daniel Hilf. He has the intelligence, reputation in the legal community, negotiating skills, and legal acumen to face any prosecutor, anywhere, at anytime! Give yourself a fighting chance, because the stakes are high, and the consequences can be life changing.
Attorney Daniel Hilf is a partner in the law firm of Hilf & Hilf, PLC, with over 20 years of legal experience successfully defending retail fraud charges throughout Michigan. Hilf & Hilf, PLC is located in Troy Michigan at 1775 W. Big Beaver Road. You can call him at (248)792-2590 to seek his legal representation. He respects your privacy, and will handle your situation in a discrete and professional manner. Take a step in the right direction and contact him today!