When you are short on cash, shoplifting or retail theft can be very tempting. After all, stores have to expect some percentage of losses. A lot of merchandise simply gets damaged by careless employees or clumsy shoppers. And, when a store expects you to scan your own purchases, it is hardly your fault when the machine malfunctions. Right? While you may think a small theft is no big deal, state law says otherwise.
Retail Theft Is a Class A Misdemeanor, Same as a DUI
As unfair as it may seem, Illinois law considers a small retail theft to be as serious as driving under the influence. Both offenses are Class A misdemeanors, punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.
Retailers have also gotten more serious about using security cameras and other systems to prevent and punish shoplifting. Even if you are not stopped before leaving the store, store employees can still report you to the police, using your image caught a security camera and/or your vehicle license plate number. In other words, you can be arrested for retail theft days or weeks after leaving a store.
Felony Threshold is $300 for Retail Theft, $500 for Other Thefts
Illinois state law is tougher on theft from a store than, for example, theft of a bike or other item left unattended in public. Retail theft becomes a Felony if the retail value of the items taken is over $300. But, outside a store, a theft becomes a felony only when the value exceeds $500, as long as the theft did not involve a taking directly from a person’s body, a break-in, or special entity (school, place of worship, government property).
Ways to Avoid a Felony Shoplifting or Retail Theft Conviction
Many state officials think that the current laws on shoplifting are far too harsh. The last time the felony theft threshold was adjusted was in 2011, when the threshold for retail felony theft was raised from $150 to $300 and the threshold for other theft was raised from $300 to $500. The Illinois legislature is considering a bill that would raise the felony threshold for all types of theft to $2,000 but it has not been passed as of last year.
In the meantime, local prosecutors can choose whether they prosecute a theft as a felony or misdemeanor, or refuse to prosecute at all. For example, the Cook County State’s Attorney announced in 2016 that they would treat retail theft cases under $1,000 as misdemeanors.
An experienced criminal defense attorney can often negotiate a felony theft charge down to a misdemeanor, get a shoplifting charge dismissed entirely, or negotiate for a more favorable sentence. For example, a first-time offender may be eligible for court supervision, which keeps a conviction off your record and allows all records of your arrest to be expunged. Offenders with a substance use disorder (e.g., alcoholism or drug addiction) may be eligible for a special program that emphasizes treatment instead of jail time, such as TASC probation (Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities).
A Joliet Theft Crimes Defense Attorney to Protect Your Rights
If you have been arrested for shoplifting or retail theft, do not let police or prosecutors pressure you into a confession or guilty plea. Consult an experienced Will County theft defense attorney before making any decisions. At the Law Office of Jack L. Zaremba, we know how important it is to maintain a clean criminal record and will aggressively defend you against any theft charges. Contact us at 815-740-4025 for a free review of your case. We answer all calls including nights and weekends.