Matthew M. Walton P.C.
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Larceny

Larceny comes in many shapes and sizes in Michigan and generally refers to theft of some sort. The Michigan Supreme Court recently reiterated that the statutory definition of larceny differs somewhat from its application, but that larceny (i.e.: “stealing” or “theft”) generally requires that the government prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt: “(a) a trespassory taking and (b) the carrying away (c) of the personal property (d) of another (e) with intent to steal that property” People v. March, 499 Mich. 389 at 401 (2016).

The seriousness of the crime, in terms of possible penalty, varies according to several factors but generally the value of the property stolen dictates the penalty, as well as the manner something is stolen and from where. For instance, theft of property with a value of less than $200 is a misdemeanor punishable by no more than 93 days in jail and/or a fine but the penalties are higher when the property is valued between $200 and $1,000. If the value of the property stolen is between $200 and $1,000 and the perpetrator has 2 or more prior convictions, the crime can become a felony with significantly more serious penalties. However, if the property is stolen by “paying” with a forged check, the penalties can be as high as a felony punishable by 14 years in prison.

“Retail Fraud” is the most common crime in Macomb County resulting in an arrest as of 20161. Retail Fraud is a form of larceny that includes what is commonly considered shoplifting, but encompasses a variety of situations including switching tags on an item or misrepresenting the price of an item with the intent not to pay, or to pay less than the item actually costs. Retail Fraud, like other forms of Larceny, comes in degrees of seriousness and can be either a misdemeanor or a felony based on both the value of property stolen and other circumstances. The difference in degrees basically refers to the value of the property stolen and range from third degree (the least serious) to first degree (the most serious). Additionally, if the property stolen is not returned or returned in a way that is worth less or nothing at all, a person who commits retail fraud in Michigan is potentially civilly liable to the owner of the store for the full value (called retail value) of the property stolen and sometimes more. The store owner will often send a demand letter, a sample of which is provided in MCL § 600.2953 which insists that they be paid back or they will bring civil charges.

Every situation is different but generally, the following table provides for the penalties associated with larceny:

Value of Property StolenPossible Penalties
Less than $200Misdemeanor; Up to 93 days in jail and/or $500 fine
Between $200 and $1,000Misdemeanor; Up to 1 year in jail and/or fine up to $2,000
More than $1,000 but less than $20,000Felony; Up to 5 years in prison and/or a fine up to $10,000

Sometimes people face larceny charges in situations where people do not think they are stealing and indeed may not be. In People v. March, 499 Mich. 389 (2016), cited above, the Supreme Court of Michigan addressed a case in which a homeowner removed (i.e.: “stole”) a variety of items from his home after a foreclosure sale. The court first noted that generally a person in “rightful possession” of the property cannot steal it. However, because the foreclosure sale operated to vest legal title of the items in the home in the purchaser at the foreclosure sale, rather than the homeowner, the question was whether the homeowner could “steal” property that he had purchased and owned but was transferred to the purchaser of the home at the foreclosure sale. The court ultimately ruled that the homeowner was not guilty of larceny and could not have stolen the property because no other party had “rightful possession” of the property at the time the defendant removed the items. The purchaser at the foreclosure sale only had a “contingent” interest in the property that would have given the purchaser “rightful possession” only after the homeowner’s right of redemption expired and the purchaser took actual possession of the home. In other words, because the homeowner remained in the home the “theft” could not be said to be “trespassory”, a necessary element of larceny charges.

As much as the law may seem daunting, the different variations in the crimes allows for a large array of defenses available. If you are facing larceny charges for stealing, contact my office to discuss your situation and how we can address them.

1Michigan State Police, Statistics & Reports, 2016 Arrests by County/Agency. Available at:

https://www.michigan.gov/documents/msp/p_Arrests_By_County_Agency_598831_7.pdf
 
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