shoplifting attorney Chicago

Contrary to what some believe, if you are arrested for retail theft, especially shoplifting, you cannot get out of it by reimbursing the retailer for the stolen items. The Illinois law treats shoplifting very seriously, where even minor instances can escalate to felony charges based on several factors, not just the value of the stolen goods.

First of all, it’s important to understand that the term “retail theft” covers a lot of activities, from the obvious act of hiding merchandise in your clothing to the more subtle tampering with price tags for a reduced checkout cost. The law assumes that even just hiding merchandise indicates an intention to steal, so, to get the charges dismissed, your shoplifting attorney Chicago needs to challenge this very presumption and prove that you did not have malicious intent.

👉Also Read: Defending Your Rights: Criminal Defense Attorneys Tackle Retail Theft Cases in Chicago

What is Considered Retail Theft in Chicago?

Any act of taking goods from a retail establishment without paying for them, or deceptively obtaining them is defined as retail theft in Illinois. It not only refers to the traditional idea of grab and dash – physically taking items without paying – but also includes other dishonest practices such as switching price tags, under-ringing, or any act that results in not paying the full retail value for the merchandise.

Under Illinois Criminal Code (720 ILCS 5/16-25), a retail theft case has these elements:

  • The action takes place in a retail setting.
  • There is an intent to deprive the merchant of the full value of the merchandise.
  • The offender acts knowingly, i.e., they are aware that their actions are unauthorized or illegal.

Taking something from a store without ever intending to pay for it is the most common type of theft. But it also includes the following actions:

  • Price Switching (720 ILCS 5/16-25(a)(2)): Changing, transferring, or removing the price tag or label of merchandise to pay less for an item or putting a more expensive item into a cheaper item’s box.
  • Under-Ringing (720 ILCS 5/16-25(a)(3)): When a store employee intentionally charges less than the full value for an item, for friends or family.
  • Theft by Deception (720 ILCS 5/16-25(a)(4)): Tricking the store staff into thinking that you have paid or are entitled to a discount when you are not.
  • Leasing Fraud (720 ILCS 5/16-25(a)(5)): Renting merchandise with the sole intention of keeping it and not paying the full price.
  • Emergency Exit (720 ILCS 5/16-25(a)(6)): Stealing an item and then leaving the establishment through an emergency exit is a felony in Illinois. The reason behind this is that using an emergency exit during a theft indicates a higher level of criminal planning or could trigger alarms and cause panic among people in the store.
  • Return Fraud (720 ILCS 5/16-25(a)(7)): Returning stolen merchandise for cash or store credit.
  • Possession of Theft Detection Shielding Devices (720 ILCS 5/16-25(a)(8)): Using, creating, or possessing devices specifically designed to interfere with or block theft detection systems. These systems are commonly found at store exits and are designed to trigger an alarm if unpaid merchandise is being taken out of the store. Simply having a bag lined with foil (a common type of shielding device) could lead to charges if there is evidence suggesting an intent to use it for shoplifting.

As mentioned earlier, the state takes the allegations of shoplifting extremely seriously. Even taking a shopping cart without permission falls under retail theft in Illinois! The law allows store owners to detain suspected shoplifters for a reasonable time to investigate. This is why you sometimes see store security holding someone they suspect of shoplifting.

What are the Penalties for Retail Theft in Chicago?

The punishment depends on the value of the stolen goods and the technique used in the theft. If you have a previous criminal record, that may also be considered.

Stolen Merchandise Valued Under $300 (Misdemeanor Charges)

If it’s a first offense and the value of the items is less than $300, it is classified as a Class A misdemeanor, which can result in up to one year in county jail, a fine of up to $2,500, or both. You may be required to pay back the value of the stolen items to the retailer. If you have a skilled criminal defense attorney, they might be able to get you probation instead of jail time for the misdemeanor retail theft.

Stolen Merchandise Valued Over $300 or Use of Emergency Exit (Felony Charges)

If the value of the stolen goods is more than $300 or if you used an emergency exit during the theft, it is considered a Class 4 felony. This can result in 1 to 3 years in state prison, a fine of up to $25,000, or both. The charge could be elevated to a Class 3 felony if you have previous convictions for retail theft – even for merchandise valued under $300. This would mean 2 to 5 years in state prison.

The retailer may also sue you for damages and you may face a penalty of either the retail value of the merchandise plus a fine ranging from $100 to $1,000, or both. A felony retail theft conviction would translate into a permanent criminal record which could affect your future employment opportunities, housing applications, and immigration status if you’re not a US citizen.

For first-time offenders or minor cases, sometimes it’s possible to get into a diversion program, such as an educational course, community service, and other rehabilitative measures. Completing these programs may result in charges being dropped or reduced.

Remember, retail theft in Illinois is treated as a misdemeanor, especially if the value of the stolen items is under $300. In Cook County, the value of the stolen items must be at least $1,000 for the theft to be charged more seriously. This is higher than the state law threshold of $300.

With that said, if you have previously been convicted of crimes like unlawful use of a credit card, theft, robbery, burglary, residential burglary, armed robbery, possession of burglary tools, home invasion, or forgery, then a new felony retail theft charge can be treated more severely as a Class 4 felony. A Class 4 felony carries a harsher penalty than a misdemeanor, which includes a possible prison sentence.

👉Also Read: Burglary Vs. Theft: Understanding The Differences And Implications

Contact Chicago’s Leading Criminal Defense Attorneys to Fight Shoplifting Charges

A seemingly harmless shoplifting charge can easily escalate to a felony and wreak havoc on your future if not handled properly. Pertaining to this, the decision to file felony charges is at the prosecutor’s discretion. While many prosecutors see a 1-3 year prison sentence as disproportionate for retail theft, do not make the mistake of relying on their leniency. You want an experienced attorney in your corner to make sure your criminal charges are dismissed completely or at the very least, reduced to a misdemeanor.

With his background as a former Cook County prosecutor, Purav Bhatt understands how the prosecution thinks. Once you retain him, his goal is to demonstrate to the court that large fines or prison time are not always the right answer and to seek milder penalties if total dismissal is out of reach.

Cook County now offers programs like pre-trial diversion for cases like retail theft, aimed at non-violent offenders. These programs can lead to charge dismissal after fulfilling requirements like community service or educational sessions. The Law Office of Purav Bhatt, our retail theft attorneys will explore all these options and effectively argue for your inclusion in such a program, to save you from the consequences of a criminal conviction. To discuss how you can clear your record, call us at 773-791-9682 or get in touch with us online.