When I represent clients being charged with the offense of retail theft or shoplifting I am inevitably asked about a letter each of them receives from the legal representative of the store, oftentimes before their first court date, from which they are accused to committing the retail theft or shoplifting offense. The law in Illinois regarding civil liability in relation to retail theft offenses (either felony or misdemeanor) allows for the retail merchant to collect damages that oftentimes far exceed the amount taken.

The civil liability provision allows the retail to collect from the offender the actual amount of the items taken, plus additional penalties ranging from $100 to $1000. The merchant themselves can decide whether they will seek $100, $1000 or somewhere in between. In addition to the penalties listed above, the merchant is also allowed to collect for lawyer fees and court costs.

My clients often do not understand that being found not guilty or having their retail theft case dismissed does not exempt them from paying the civil liability demand. The retail theft statute does not prevent the merchant from bringing a civil lawsuit against the offender and a plea or finding of guilty is not a prerequisite.

Also, if the person ignores the letter or fails to pay the demand, the merchant is entitled to seek the full $1000 as well as the attorney’s fees and court costs which could end up being multiple thousands of dollars.

What I advise my clients to do is to bring me a copy of the letter they receive and wait until the conclusion of the criminal case to deal with the civil suit. Oftentimes, if the criminal case was dismissed or if the offender was found not guilty, bringing this information to the legal representatives of the retail store can lead to the amount being reduced or waived all together because the legal effort needed to bring an offender whose case was criminally dismissed is oftentimes to expensive, great and risky to pursue.

If you or someone you love has been arrested and charged with retail theft or shoplifting in Chicago, Cook, DuPage, Will or Lake counties, please contact the Law Office of Purav Bhatt at 773-791-9682 to discuss your matter. You have options in both the criminal and civil courts.

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