Retail Fraud – Civil Demand, Public Embarrassment and No Record

As a Criminal Defense Attorney in Macomb County, I spend a lot of time in the local Courts. Whether it’s in St. Clair Shores, Eastpointe, Roseville, Clinton Twp., Sterling Heights, Shelby Twp., New Baltimore or Romeo, I am often representing someone charged with Retail Fraud who, when stopped leaving the store, had more than enough money to pay for the merchandise they were caught with.

Crying-woman-small.jpgMany Retail Fraud cases involve a person with a drug habit, who is stealing in order to either return, or sell the merchandise, in order to buy drugs. Likewise, a fair number of cases involve younger people, some of whom try and expand their wardrobes by getting some merchandise for “free,” or are out on a “dare” to see if they can “get away with it.”

Lately, I’ve run into several cases involving mature, grown, women, some of whom were married and had good jobs, who got caught trying to steal merchandise that they more than able to afford. Sometimes these cases are talked about in terms of a “cry for help.”

Whether due to stresses at home or work, or perhaps because of looming economic stress, these Clients have spent an entire lifetime as solid, law-abiding citizens who suddenly engage in out-of-character behavior that defies explanation. Once caught, they are remorseful, tearful, scared of the legal consequences of their actions, and hugely embarrassed by them.

In the majority of these cases, the person caught will be taken to the Store’s Loss Prevention Office. Sometimes, they’ll be asked to write a statement of admission. In most cases, the Police are called. After the Police arrive, they’ll take the person’s name and information, and run a Criminal Record check on them to check their criminal background, if any, and to make sure they have no outstanding arrest warrants. If the person comes back with a clean, or reasonably clean prior record, they are usually not arrested or taken into custody.

Instead, the Police advise the person that they’ll be notified of the need to report to the Police Station on a future date to be fingerprinted and “booked.” In some cities, the Client will be walked over to Court for an “Arraignment.” In other cities, this is done by video, while the Client is still at the Police Station. Some cities send a Court Notice first, and the fingerprinting is don after the first Court date. When I’m retained by a client prior to this happening, my office handles making these arrangements, so it’s one less hassle for the Client to deal with.

Before being escorted out of the Store by the Police, the person is usually handed a form called a “Civil Demand” which advises them of the need to pay a certain “Civil Damage Fee” (usually about $200) or face the prospect of being sued for the actual value of the merchandise plus up to 10 times that value (up to an additional $200), plus Court costs and Attorney fees. The Michigan Law that authorizes this demand and its’ attendant costs can be viewed here.

While beyond the scope of this article, as a general statement, I don’t advise my Clients to pay this demand. At worst, it can be paid (without penalty or increase in amount) later.

Having handled so many Retail Fraud cases in my nearly 20 years of practicing law, the good news is that in almost every case where my Client has no prior Retail Fraud convictions, the whole incident can be kept off their record and made to forever go away. There are several different ways this can be accomplished, and that mostly depends on which Court (City) is handling the case. Some Courts require a person to complete a property rights or shoplifting class in order to keep the case from gong on their record. However it plays out, the Client can breathe easy knowing they will not have their record blemished for a momentary lapse of reason and episode of bad or confused judgment.