Shoplifting may seem like a minor and harmless crime, especially if it occurs in a large retail chain. However, because of the millions of dollars retailers lose each year to shoplifters, Illinois lawmakers and law enforcement consider it to be much more than a teenage prank. In fact, in certain circumstances, shoplifting can be a felony charge, placing you at risk for high fines and even time behind bars.
In addition to the very rigid retail theft laws in this state, if a merchant suspects you of shoplifting, Illinois permits that merchant to detain you lawfully to check your identification or contact police. You may be surprised at how broad the definition of shoplifting is that allows merchants the leniency to hold you.
Understanding retail theft situations
Shoplifting is not just slipping an item under your shirt or into your bag. While this kind of theft is the more common idea people have of shoplifting, there are other acts that may result in criminal charges, such as:
- Switching a lower price tag to a higher priced item and paying the lower price at checkout
- Altering or removing a price tag
- Moving more expensive merchandise into a container for a less expensive item
- Avoiding paying for an item by telling a store employee that the item is yours
- Working as a retail employee and ringing up merchandise for a lower price than its label
- Carrying or using devices to block theft detection systems
- Leaving a store with unpaid merchandise through an emergency exit
A unique aspect to Illinois' retail theft law is that you face an additional felony charge for using an emergency exit to escape with unpaid merchandise. This places you at risk for much more severe penalties if convicted.
You do not have to leave the premises with unpaid merchandise for security officers, police or employees to stop you and/or arrest you for shoplifting. Simply concealing something with the intent of removing it without paying is enough to warrant theft charges. On the other hand, it is often difficult to prove intent in a court of law. For example, you may have slipped an item into your purse because your hands were full or you were dealing with a restless child.
Your defense against charges of shoplifting must be strong and convincing. Since you have a great deal at risk, it may not be wise to handle your case without the skill and experience of a criminal defense attorney.