Articles Posted in Retail Fraud

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Being detained or even handcuffed for a shoplifting allegation is the worst feeling.  The biggest questions are: what will happen next?.  Will the store prosecute?  The store won’t prosecute, but the prosecutor for the city or county where the offense allegedly occurred will usually file a case.  The store will likely send a civil demand letter seeking money damages from $50 to $200.  The store will also provide all of its evidence to the prosecutor.  The evidence for larger chain stores will likely include: a report by a loss prevention officer, a photograph of the merchandise, a cash register receipt for the items involved in the offense to establish the value of the merchandise, in store video recordings, witness statements, and often a statement that it acquired from the Defendant.  The vast majority of stores will tell the person that they suspected of shoplifting to not come back or else a trespassing charge will be pursued.

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The next question may be, what will I be charged with?  In Michigan, shoplifting charges are determined by a few factors: the accused prior record, the amount of the merchandise and the intent of the accused.  Shoplifting charges in Michigan are called retail fraud, which has 3 different degrees.  First Degree Retail Fraud is a felony offense that carries a maximum possible punishment of 5 years in prison.  This offense is charged by a county prosecutor if the person accused alleged stole merchandise offered for sale at $1000 or more, or is the merchandise is offered for sale at $200 or more and the accused has a prior theft conviction.  For the offense of retail fraud, if the accused is alleged to have stolen from a store location on several different occasions the alleged theft amounts of the shoplifting can be added together to determine the charge that the accused will face.  Second Degree Retail Fraud is a misdemeanor offense with a possible penalty of 365 days in jail.  This offense involves either the shoplifting of merchandise from a store that is $200 or more, or it can occur if the price was under $200 if the accused has a prior theft conviction.  Third Degree Retail Fraud is charged when the merchandise was under $200.  There is a form of shoplifting that is a 5 year maximum felony called Organized Retail Theft.  The important part of this offense centers on the intent of the accused: Did the accused plan on selling what was allegedly stolen?  This offense is Michigan’s attempt to combat people who try to make a career out of stealing from stores.

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One of the most important questions from someone accused of shoplifting is what should I do now?  The immediate answer is that he or she should hire a lawyer.  Well, not any old lawyer – a lawyer that has experience with these types of cases.  An experienced shoplifting defense lawyer can help in several respects:

A common question when someone is arrested for retail fraud is: “Will I be placed on probation?”.  Another common question is:  “Can I avoid Jail?”.  When a person is arrested there is often a fear of the unknown.  “What will happen to me?”.  “What will the Judge do?”.  Although probation is common for shoplifting, it is not guaranteed.

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All retail fraud/shoplifting cases are criminal cases, which means that the Judge always has the discretion to impose jail as a condition of bond or sentence.  There are a lot of different factors that can influence what will happen:

  1. The Defendant’s prior history.  Obviously, the worse a person’s prior record the more likely incarceration becomes an option.  This is especially true when the prior history also involves shoplifting.  When the charge is a Felony (1st Degree Retail Fraud or Organized Retail Fraud), the Defendant’s prior record is a factor in the computation of sentencing guidelines.  In Michigan, sentence guidelines are an advisory sentence range for a Judge to consider which is determined by the scoring of prior record and offense related variables.  Although sentencing guidelines are advisory, they are influential in terms of how a Judge determines the sentence.

A charge of retail fraud can have lasting consequences on a person’s life.  In some circumstances a conviction for retail fraud may result in any of the following: loss of employment; licensing issues for professionals; immigration consequences for persons that are not United States citizens; trouble with traveling to foreign countries due to visa issues; damage to reputation; etc..  When placed on probation for retail fraud, there are potential consequences for being on probation, including: incarceration; financial issues (payment of fines, court costs, restitution, crime victim’s rights fees, cost of drug/alcohol testing; cost of counseling); loss of rights/privileges; inability to travel out of state; loss of days of work due to court related issues; fear; stress; etc.

In some instances the case is defensible, and you need a great lawyer to fight for you.

In some instances the case is not defensible, and you need a great lawyer to help you make the best out of a bad situation.

In Michigan when a person is accused by a store, detained by loss prevention, or arrested by police, for retail fraud it is not uncommon for that person to receive a letter in the mail asking for civil damages.  These are referred to as Civil Demand Letters.  The letter is usually from a lawyer or law firm that often is not even from the state of Michigan (for example, for Walmart cases in Michigan involving alleged shoplifting the law offices of Michael Iran Asen, P.C. in Greenvale, New York handles these civil matters).   People who receive these letters often have many questions.

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Are civil demand letters in Michigan legal?  Yes.  Michigan Compiled Law 600.2953 allows the merchant to send these letters.  This law provides that a merchant who is a victim can seek the following:

  1. the full price of any unrecovered property;

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There are 3 different ways a person can be charged with felony retail fraud:

First, an allegation of theft, or attempted theft, from a store that is open to the public with the price of the merchandise  being $1000 (one thousand dollars) or more.  This is referred to as First Degree Retail Fraud.

Second, an allegation of theft, or attempted theft, from a store that is open to the public with the a price of the merchandise being $200 (two hundred dollars) or more, if the person has a prior theft conviction.  This is also referred to as First Degree Retail Fraud.

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Most people have never had to go through the experience of hiring a lawyer.  When arrested for retail fraud, sometimes it is difficult to determine the next step to take.  Obviously a lawyer is a top priority, but the question becomes which lawyer to hire.  Finding and choosing a lawyer can seem overwhelming, especially when dealing with the emotions and uncertainty of having to contend with a shoplifting allegation that may have been rightfully or wrongfully brought.  The following list may be helpful:

First, consider the location of where the offense is alleged to occur.  In many instances it is a good idea to hire a lawyer who is familiar with the Judges and prosecutors that you will eventually need to contend with.  The proximity of the lawyer’s office to the courthouse is often a good sign that the lawyer frequently appears at the courthouse.  The familiarity the lawyer has with the prosecution and the Judges often provides the lawyer with the right insight to negotiate a great resolution for a fair resolution and sentence (if a conviction occurs).

Second, consider the reputation and experience of the lawyer.  Even though the lawyer may practice in front of certain Judges or have cases with certain prosecutors it does not necessarily mean that the lawyer is good at what he or she does.  Online reviews from law related sights such as www.avvo.com is a good place to start.  The length of time a lawyer has practiced can affect the result you obtain.  A younger lawyer may be eager and energetic, but lack the skills and abilities that a seasoned lawyer has.  Experience often matters.

In Michigan once a ticket for Retail Fraud (also known as shoplifting or retail theft) is issued, or a criminal charge is filed (or sworn to) at the district court, the first court date is known as the arraignment.  There are several things that occur at an arraignment.

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First, the Defendant is advised of the charge and potential penalty.  When it comes to Retail Fraud, there are a few potential charges that a Defendant could face:

  1. Retail Fraud ordinance violation.    This offense involves an alleged theft, or attempted theft, of merchandise from a store offered for sale while the store is open for business.  The maximum allowable sentence for this offense is 93 days in jail.  Ordinance violations are prosecuted by a city/township/village, or a lawyer/law firm that represents a city/township/village.

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It is not uncommon for a minor to commit retail fraud (or shoplifting).  The reasons for this include: peer pressure; greed; the feeling of invincibility; psychological reasons; etc.; etc.   It is always upsetting for a parent to learn that their child got into trouble, and the range of emotions that a parent may feel may run from concern to anger to disappointment.

What to expect for you and your child when your child is facing a shoplifting allegation?

If your child was lucky, the store made a decision to not involve law enforcement.  If law enforcement was contacted, how the case is handled depends upon the age of your child.

Twelve Oaks Mall is a popular shopping destination due to its collection of great stores. Nordstrom, Macy’s, Lord & Taylor, the Apple Store, and Lululemon Athletica,  and Victoria’s Secret are a few of it’s most sought after destinations.  One of the issues that Twelve Oaks and its merchants deal with on a daily basis is shoplifting (also called retail fraud or retail theft) and employee theft (also called embezzlement).

Twelve Oaks Mall has mall security, close circuit court, and a working relationship with Novi Police to protect its tenants.  The prosecution of shoplifters and people who embezzle money and merchandise is intended to serve as a deterrent for repeated thefts and the public at large.

How are people caught committing theft offenses?

Great Lakes Crossing Mall is a popular shopping destination due to its collection of outlet brand stores.  Neiman Marcus, Off Saks, Victoria’s Secret, Forever 21, and Bass Pro Shop are a few of its known merchants.  An issue that goes hand in hand with the large amount of traffic at Great Lakes Crossing and desirable merchandise is shoplifting.

Great Lakes Crossing goes to great lengths to protect its tenants.  There is mall security, close circuit court, and a working relationship with the stores and Auburn Hills Police.

How do stores catch people?  The stores also have mechanisms in place to protect to protect themselves from losses from retail fraud, embezzlement, and other types of theft such as: