Retail Fraud Defense

If you have been charged with retail fraud, the prosecutor believes you have been engaged in the act of stealing merchandise (items offered for sale to the public) while the store is open for business, "price switching", or trying to get a fraudulent refund from a store. Retail Fraud is a theft crime (like larceny) requiring proof that the item was taken intentionally (not accidentally), with the intent to steal.

Michigan has three degrees of retail fraud:

1st Degree ($1,000 or more stolen; or 2nd Degree + prior conviction):
Felony; up to 5 years in prison and/or $10,000 fine (or 3x merchandise's value)

2nd Degree ($200 - under $1,000 stolen; or 3rd Degree + prior conviction):
Misdemeanor; up to 1 year in jail and/or $2,000 fine (or 3x merchandise's value)

3rd Degree (under $200 stolen):
Misdemeanor; up to 93 days in jail and/or $500 fine (or 3x merchandise's value)

In addition to criminal penalties, a shoplifter may also be subject to civil penalties demanded by the store, including the full retail price of unrecovered property or recovered property that is not in salable condition, and civil damages of 10 times the retail price of the property, but not less than $50.00 and not more than $200.00.

The Michigan statutes prohibiting retail fraud is as follows:

Retail fraud in first degree

(1) A person who does any of the following in a store or in its immediate vicinity is guilty of retail fraud in the first degree, a felony punishable by imprisonment for not more than 5 years or a fine of not more than $10,000.00 or 3 times the value of the difference in price, property stolen, or money or property obtained or attempted to be obtained, whichever is greater, or both imprisonment and a fine:

  1. While a store is open to the public, alters, transfers, removes and replaces, conceals, or otherwise misrepresents the price at which property is offered for sale, with the intent not to pay for the property or to pay less than the price at which the property is offered for sale, if the resulting difference in price is $1,000.00 or more.
  2. While a store is open to the public, steals property of the store that is offered for sale at a price of $1,000.00 or more.
  3. With intent to defraud, obtains or attempts to obtain money or property from the store as a refund or exchange for property that was not paid for and belongs to the store, if the amount of money or the value of the property obtained or attempted to be obtained is $1,000.00 or more.

(2) A person who violates section 356d(1) and who has 1 or more prior convictions for committing or attempting to commit an offense under this section or section 218, 356, 356d(1), or 360 is guilty of retail fraud in the first degree. For purposes of this subsection, however, a prior conviction does not include a conviction for a violation or attempted violation of section 218(2) or (3)(b) or section 356(4)(b) or (5).

(3) 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 under this section.

(4) If the prosecuting attorney intends to seek an enhanced sentence based upon the defendant having 1 or more prior convictions, the prosecuting attorney shall include on the complaint and information a statement listing the prior conviction or convictions. The existence of the defendant's prior conviction or convictions shall be determined by the court, without a jury, at sentencing or at a separate hearing for that purpose before sentencing. The existence of a prior conviction may be established by any evidence relevant for that purpose, including, but not limited to, 1 or more of the following:

  1. A copy of the judgment of conviction.
  2. A transcript of a prior trial, plea-taking, or sentencing.
  3. Information contained in a presentence report.
  4. The defendant's statement.

(5) A person who commits retail fraud in the first degree shall not be prosecuted under section 218(5) or 356(2).

(6) If the sentence for a conviction under this section is enhanced by 1 or more prior convictions, those prior convictions shall not be used to further enhance the sentence for the conviction pursuant to section 10, 11, or 12 of chapter IX of the code of criminal procedure, 1927 PA 175, MCL 769.10, 769.11, and 769.12.

Retail fraud in second degree

(1) A person who does any of the following in a store or in its immediate vicinity is guilty of retail fraud in the second degree, a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than 1 year or a fine of not more than $2,000.00 or 3 times the value of the difference in price, property stolen, or money or property obtained or attempted to be obtained, whichever is greater, or both imprisonment and a fine:

  1. While a store is open to the public, alters, transfers, removes and replaces, conceals, or otherwise misrepresents the price at which property is offered for sale with the intent not to pay for the property or to pay less than the price at which the property is offered for sale if the resulting difference in price is $200.00 or more but less than $1,000.00.
  2. While a store is open to the public, steals property of the store that is offered for sale at a price of $200.00 or more but less than $1,000.00.
  3. With intent to defraud, obtains or attempts to obtain money or property from the store as a refund or exchange for property that was not paid for and belongs to the store if the amount of money or the value of the property obtained or attempted to be obtained is $200.00 or more but less than $1,000.00.

(2) A person who violates subsection (4) and who has 1 or more prior convictions for committing or attempting to commit an offense under this section, section 218, 356, 356c, or 360, or a local ordinance substantially corresponding to this section or section 218, 356, 356c, or 360 is guilty of retail fraud in the second degree.

(3) A person who commits retail fraud in the second degree shall not be prosecuted under section 360.

(4) A person who does any of the following in a store or in its immediate vicinity is guilty of retail fraud in the third degree, a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than 93 days or a fine of not more than $500.00 or 3 times the value of the difference in price, property stolen, or money or property obtained or attempted to be obtained, whichever is greater, or both imprisonment and a fine:

  1. While a store is open to the public, alters, transfers, removes and replaces, conceals, or otherwise misrepresents the price at which property is offered for sale, with the intent not to pay for the property or to pay less than the price at which the property is offered for sale, if the resulting difference in price is less than $200.00.
  2. While a store is open to the public, steals property of the store that is offered for sale at a price of less than $200.00.
  3. With intent to defraud, obtains or attempts to obtain money or property from the store as a refund or exchange for property that was not paid for and belongs to the store, if the amount of money, or the value of the property, obtained or attempted to be obtained is less than $200.00.

(5) A person who commits retail fraud in the third degree shall not be prosecuted under section 360.

(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 under this section.

(7) If the prosecuting attorney intends to seek an enhanced sentence based upon the defendant having 1 or more prior convictions, the prosecuting attorney shall include on the complaint and information a statement listing the prior conviction or convictions. The existence of the defendant's prior conviction or convictions shall be determined by the court, without a jury, at sentencing or at a separate hearing for that purpose before sentencing. The existence of a prior conviction may be established by any evidence relevant for that purpose, including, but not limited to, 1 or more of the following:

  1. A copy of the judgment of conviction.
  2. A transcript of a prior trial, plea-taking, or sentencing.
  3. Information contained in a presentence report.
  4. The defendant's statement.

The civil penalty statute for retail fraud

600.2953 Retail fraud; liability; civil damages; demand for payment; text; noncompliance; effect of payment; jurisdiction; civil action against parent; formal police report; violation by merchant precluding recovery.

(1) In addition to applicable penal sanctions, a person who commits an act for which he or she could be charged with retail fraud in the first, second, or third degree under sections 356c and 356d of the Michigan penal code, 1931 PA 328, MCL 750.356c and 750.356d, is liable to the merchant who is the victim of the act for the full retail price of unrecovered property or recovered property that is not in salable condition, and civil damages of 10 times the retail price of the property, but not less than $50.00 and not more than $200.00.

(2) The merchant who is the victim of retail fraud in the first, second, or third degree, or an agent of the merchant, may make a written demand for payment of the amount for which the person who committed the act is liable under subsection (1). Except for a sole proprietorship, a member of management, other than the initial detaining person, shall evaluate the validity of the accusation that the person committed the act and shall approve the accusation in writing before a written demand for payment is issued. The demand for payment may be delivered to the person from whom payment is demanded by first-class mail. The text of the written demand shall be as follows:

“We have cause to believe that on (date) you, or your minor child (child's name), committed retail fraud in the first, second, or third degree by (description of action and property involved) in our store or in its immediate vicinity.
State law authorizes us to demand in writing that you do all of the following, as applicable:
[ ] Return the property in salable condition or pay to us $ ______, which represents the full retail price or the remaining balance of the full retail price of the property.
[ ] Pay to us $ ______, which represents the full retail price of the recovered property that is not in salable condition.
[ ] Pay to us civil damages in an amount equal to 10 times the retail price of the property involved, but not less than $50.00 or more than $200.00, equaling a total amount of $ ______.
This notice is a formal demand for return of the property involved, if applicable, and the payment of the amounts indicated above, equaling a total amount of $ ______. If you return any unrecovered property and pay the amounts indicated above to us within 30 days after the date this notice was mailed, we will not take any further civil action against you.
You are not required to respond to this demand if you believe that you or your minor child are not guilty of committing retail fraud or if you choose not to respond. If you fail to comply with this demand, we will be authorized by state law to bring a civil action against you to determine your legal responsibility for the return of any unrecovered property and the payment of the amounts indicated above plus the cost of the action, including reasonable attorney fees.
These civil proceedings do not prevent criminal prosecution for the alleged act of retail fraud.”.

(3) If the person to whom a written demand is made under subsection (2) complies with the written demand within 30 days after the date the written demand is mailed, that person shall incur no further civil liability to the merchant from the act of retail fraud.

(4) A person who commits an act described in subsection (1) and who fails to comply with a written demand under subsection (2) is liable to the merchant for the full retail price of the property, unless the property was recovered in salable condition, plus civil damages of 10 times the retail price of the property but not less than $50.00 or more than $200.00, and costs of the action, including reasonable attorney fees.

(5) If a civil action is filed pursuant to this section and before the trial of the action is commenced the person to whom a written demand was made under subsection (2) pays the merchant in cash the amount demanded, subsection (4) does not apply.

(6) An action under this section may be brought in the small claims division of the district court or in any other court of competent jurisdiction. If the amount demanded exceeds the jurisdiction of the small claims division, the action may still be brought in the small claims division, but the amount recovered shall not exceed the jurisdiction of the small claims division.

(7) A merchant may recover damages in an amount allowable under this section in a civil action in a court of competent jurisdiction against the parent or parents of an unemancipated minor who lives with his or her parent or parents and who commits an act described in subsection (1).

(8) A merchant may recover the amount for which a person is civilly liable under this section only if a formal police report is filed with a local law enforcement agency that has jurisdiction over the location where the violation took place, which report sets forth facts alleging that the person has committed retail fraud in the first, second, or third degree or violated a local ordinance substantially corresponding to section 218, 356, 356c, or 356d of the Michigan penal code, 1931 PA 328, MCL 750.218, 750.356, 750.356c, and 750.356d, regardless of the outcome of any criminal action.

(9) Notwithstanding any other provision of this section, a merchant shall not recover civil damages for an act of retail fraud in the first, second, or third degree with regard to a particular item of property if the merchant violated section 3 of 1976 PA 449, MCL 445.353, with regard to that item of property and the violation was not caused by the person who committed the act of retail fraud.

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