No parent wants to learn their child has been accused of shoplifting, however it isn’t uncommon for minors (those younger than 17) to commit this crime. It can be very enticing to a young girl to stick a tube of lipstick in her pocket or purse; a young man just can’t resist a “five finger discount” that seems easy enough to get away with. As a parent you may experience disappointment, disbelief, even anger. While no parent should condone stealing, you don’t want your child to wind up in jail or with a criminal record. What should you expect?
Depending on the item a teen is attempting to shoplift and other circumstances, many stores decide not to call the police and simply confiscate the item(s). However, if the manager or someone in an authority position does decide to call law enforcement in, the age of your child is the biggest factor in how the case will be handled.
In the state of Michigan someone who is 17 or older is charged as an adult; those younger than 17 will be treated as a juvenile offender. Shoplifting is retail fraud, and may be charged as a misdemeanor or felony depending on the person’s criminal history, the value of the stolen goods or the merchandise a person attempted to steal, and other factors.
Those charged as adults may face 93 days in jail, one year in jail, or up to five years in prison if convicted depending on whether the charge was a local ordinance misdemeanor, a state misdemeanor, or a state felony offense.
Juvenile offenders attend juvenile court where the focus is usually on rehabilitation rather than locking your child up, although some judges can be tougher than others. Ultimately when a juvenile is found guilty of shoplifting or retail fraud, it is the judge or referee presiding over the case who will determine what the punishment will be. It’s also important to note that those in the juvenile court systems often have different views on what rehabilitation is, and how it should be handled. Just as adult offenders, juvenile offenders have constitutional rights if the matter goes to trial.
Regardless of whether your child is 17 or older or a juvenile, most criminal charges are resolved by either a plea bargain or taking the matter to trial. The advantage of a plea bargain or sentencing agreement is that in many cases it is possible to prevent a criminal conviction record, as the retail fraud offense may be reduced to an offense that is considered less serious. When a person pleads ‘not guilty’ and goes forward to trial, if found guilty (convicted) the consequences can be serious. Even if no jail or prison term is ordered, a criminal record will have a negative impact on employment, immigration issues, housing, financial age, ability to pursue or retain a professional license necessary in many career fields, and more.
Having a child accused of shoplifting or a more serious theft offense is stressful to say the least. You want to protect your child regardless of what he or she has done – and we have all made mistakes over our lifetimes. The best step you can take in the interest of your child is to consult with a seasoned criminal defense lawyer who is experienced in juvenile law matters.