What Is Shoplifting?
Shoplifting, also referred to as retail theft, is generally defined as the act of stealing items from a retail store without paying for them. It’s considered a criminal offense under Illinois law and can be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or a felony – depending on the circumstances.
In this article, we take an in-depth look at Illinois shoplifting laws, the civil and criminal penalties for shoplifting, the consequences of a shoplifting conviction, and the importance of getting legal help if you are facing a shoplifting criminal charge.
Retail Theft in Illinois – What the Numbers Say
Retail theft has been a widespread problem in Illinois over the past few years. Data from the National Retail Federation shows that retail theft accounts for more than $720,000 in losses for every $1 billion in sales. Particularly, in cities like Chicago, organized retail theft has reached crisis proportions, a result of which small business owners have become more watchful and are spending more money on surveillance and security equipment than ever before.
Data shows that Chicago is among the top five cities in the country where organized retail crime is rampant. The other four are New York, Los Angeles, Miami, and San Francisco.
How Does Shoplifting Differ From Theft?
If you steal something from a retail establishment, it is considered shoplifting. On the other hand, if you steal something from a private individual or any other place (other than a retail establishment), it is considered theft.
Does Illinois Law Treat Shoplifting Different Than Other Theft Offenses?
Yes. Illinois shoplifting laws have very specific provisions for prosecuting different types of shoplifting offenses. They are much broader in scope compared to shoplifting laws in many other states.
Under Illinois law, the definition of shoplifting includes a wide range of crimes, which include:
- Taking or carrying any item from a retail establishment without paying for it.
- Removing, altering, or tampering with price tags.
- Switching items from one container to another in order to avoid paying for them.
- Returning an item that was not purchased from the store in order to get a refund, get the item replaced, or get store credit.
- Keeping a leased item past the expiration date.
- Tampering with anti-theft mechanisms in retail establishments or using a theft detection shielding device to steal unpaid merchandise.
What Happens If You Are Caught Shoplifting in Illinois?
If you are caught shoplifting in a retail store, you will most likely be banned from the establishment for a period of time. Some stores have a zero-tolerance policy towards shoplifting and tend to ban the offenders for life.
If you try to enter the store after being banned or if you try to evade the ban in any other way, you could face legal consequences. In addition to that, depending on the item that was stolen, the store owner might call the police and report the incident. Additionally, under Illinois law, if store employees suspect shoplifting, they do have the right to detain you.
Is Shoplifting Classified as a Misdemeanor or a Felony in Illinois?
Depending on the value of the stolen goods, you can be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony. If the value of the merchandise stolen is less than $300, you can be charged with a Class A misdemeanor, which is punishable by a fine (up to $2,500) and jail time (up to one year). If the value of the item(s) in question is more than $300, you can be charged with a Class 4 felony, which is punishable by a fine (up to $25,000) and imprisonment (1 to 3 years).
Apart from the value of the stolen item(s), there are a number of other factors that can determine the severity of the criminal charges you can face. These include:
- The item that was stolen.
- Whether it is your first shoplifting offense or you have a criminal record.
- Whether you slipped through the emergency exit after taking the item.
- Whether you used a theft detection shielding device.
For example, if you steal motor fuel worth $150, you can be charged with a Class A misdemeanor. If you steal motor fuel worth more than $150, you can be charged with a Class 3 felony. Similarly, if you left through the emergency exit after stealing the item, you can be charged with a Class 4 felony (if the value of the item is less than $300) or a Class 2 felony (if it is worth more than $300).
More importantly, if you have been convicted of shoplifting in the past, your second offense will be prosecuted as a Class 4 felony – regardless of the value of the stolen item. In addition to criminal penalties, you might also have to pay a civil penalty, which might include the retail cost of the stolen item, attorney fees, court costs, and compensatory damages to the retail store.
How a Chicago Shoplifting Defense Lawyer Can Help You
A prolific and accomplished criminal defense attorney can protect your constitutional rights, tell you what you should and should not do in order to avoid incriminating yourself, and devise a robust defense strategy to beat the charges against you.
Depending on the circumstances, your lawyer might use one of the following defenses.
- You lacked the intent to steal the item in question.
- You mistakenly took the item in question – thinking it was yours.
- You were under the influence of alcohol, recreational drugs, or any controlled substance and lacked the criminal intent to commit retail theft.
If you are a first offender, your lawyer, someone who has been through the legal minefields before and knows where to step and not to step, might be able to help you avoid jail time by getting you to enter a First Offender Program, pretrial diversion, or a deferred prosecution program. If it is not an option, your lawyer might be able to negotiate with the prosecutor and get your charges reduced to the lowest extent possible, so that you can avoid a felony conviction.
Facing Shoplifting Charges? Get an Experienced and Resourceful Illinois Shoplifting Defense Attorney on Your Side
At the Law Office of Purav Bhatt, we have extensive experience in defending individuals facing shoplifting and other related theft charges. Whether you are facing a misdemeanor or felony shoplifting charge, we can provide you with strategic legal representation and defend you aggressively in order to achieve the best possible outcome.
Our founder – Purav Bhatt – is a former prosecutor who has been practicing criminal law for more than a decade. His experience as a prosecutor allows him to devise highly effective defense strategies that can deliver the results his clients need.