Illinois has some of the harshest punishments in the U.S. for those convicted of retail theft. Defendants convicted of shoplifting $300 or more of goods can receive up to five years in prison and fines reaching $25,000.
Last year, a bill that would have raised the threshold for felony retail theft to $2,000 failed in the Illinois General Assembly. Supporters said it would have resulted in a decrease of 1,100 inmates in state prisons and saved taxpayers over $37 million per year.
How is shoplifting defined?
Under Illinois law, you can be charged with retail theft for taking merchandise without paying, or not paying the full value. A person can be charged for:
- Removing or altering a price tag
- Moving merchandise from one container to another
- Under-ringing – or causing a cash register to charge less than full value
- Using a device that shields theft detection
- Falsely claiming ownership of the merchandise
Intent may not be easy to prove, but the state allows courts to assume that a person shoplifted by concealing merchandise or taking it toward an exit beyond the final cash register.
Defense strategies for shoplifting
Many people are charged with attempting to cheat retailers, but a significant number of these incidents are innocent mistakes. Defendants can argue:
- They simply forgot to pay
- A cashier failed to ring it up
- The store mislabeled the item
- Mistake of fact – meaning the defendant owned the merchandise
- Impairment, such as intoxication, insanity or state of mind
Resolve charges quickly and successfully
Illinois is one of only six states with harsh penalties for theft of goods under $500. While some prosecutors – including Cook County – have stopped charging felonies for cases involving less than $1,000 in merchandise, too many people face serious consequences for convictions.
If you are charged, an experienced criminal defense lawyer will aggressively defend you by looking at the reasons for the arrest. That includes whether security had a valid reason and whether your rights were violated when you were detained and searched, or whether you were the victim of profiling. Your lawyer can also negotiate with prosecutors for a reduced penalty.