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.
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.
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:
- Helps the accused deal with the stress and anxiety that he or she is feeling by providing answers and a sound defense.
- Provides a buffer from the police. The police are not supposed to question someone accused of shoplifting if the accused asserts their right to counsel. Defense counsel will contact the police to try and learn additional information, when possible to try and minimize the charge(s), and to allow the Defendant to surrender himself/herself to the Court, rather than being arrested.
- Argues for a fair and reasonable bond. A person charged with shoplifting will ultimately need to be arraigned on the charge. Part of the arraignment process is for a Judge or magistrate to set a bond. The Court’s determination is based upon whether or not the accused is a flight risk, and whether or not there is a danger to the community. The lawyer will have the opportunity to address the bond amount and conditions with the Court.
- Obtains all the relevant information to properly defend the case. This is referred to as discovery. Once someone accused is charged with a crime, his or her lawyer is entitled to obtain discovery.
- Develop a strategy in how to best handle the case. The strategy may be a trial, a plea, or an effort to attack an evidentiary issue. Sometimes a lawyer can even avoid a conviction from occurring based upon special provisions in the law. Naturally, a successful defense at trial leading to an acquittal
- Be a fearless advocate at trial.
- If a conviction occurs, a fair sentence will be fought for on behalf of the accused
- If a conviction occurs, a great record by defense counsel is needed to create the best chance of prevailing at the appellate court level.
How can a shoplifting conviction impact the future? Persons with shoplifting convictions sometimes have trouble finding employment. The potential employer often has a concern that the job candidate might steal from the employer or a customer. Also, a person with a shoplifting conviction may have trouble working in a licensed profession such as being a lawyer, doctor, nurse, financial broker, etc. due to ethical or legal prohibitions. A shoplifting conviction can impact a person’s ability to obtain financial or educational loans. For persons that are not United States citizens, shoplifting may cause immigration problems. For United States citizens that want to travel to a foreign country, some foreign countries may deny entry or a visa based upon a criminal record. This is on top of the other legal consequences for any criminal conviction – potential jail/prison, probation with sometimes difficult probationary conditions, and financial penalties. A shoplifting conviction may also be a great source of embarrassment, humiliation, and stress. If you are accused – do the right thing and lawyer up immediately.
What Lawyer Should I Call? In Michigan, the answer to this question is attorney Daniel Hilf of Hilf & Hilf, PLC. He has the experience, expertise, worth ethic, and ability to handle a shoplifting case to your best advantage.