Illinois criminal lawyerA large proportion of the general public has shoplifted in their lifetimes, either as very young children, as teens, or even as adults. However, while it may seem like shoplifting is a relatively harmless crime, Illinois law is structured in such a way that the taking of a relatively small amount of property can spiral into felony territory. If you or a loved one has been charged with retail theft, it is imperative that you understand the potential consequences before proceeding to trial.

Statutes Are Specific

Retail theft in Illinois is defined as taking possession of, carrying away, or causing to be transferred or carried away any merchandise from a retail establishment, with the intention of retaining it without paying full retail value for it. While this definition includes shoplifting, it also includes other practices like changing price tags and returning shoplifted items for store credit or cash. It also encompasses rental items and failure to return them.

The degree of offense and the sentence to be levied if someone is found guilty of retail theft depends primarily on the dollar amount of the merchandise involved. Minor losses under $300 are almost always charged as Class A misdemeanors, thefts of gasoline (the type used to fuel cars) over $150 may be charged as felonies, and standard property thefts or other episodes involving merchandise valued over $300 will likely be charged as felonies. Misdemeanors can sometimes be expunged or sealed, while felony convictions cannot.

Potential Civil Implications

What many do not realize about retail theft is that while criminal charges are the most common option pursued against alleged perpetrators, civil consequences are also an option for the same crime (that is, both civil and criminal cases may be mounted against you). Stores will commonly try to pursue civil action against an alleged shoplifter, especially if the losses total over $300 (the felony threshold). An adult may be found liable, and if the offender is a minor, their parents may be liable.

Be advised that sometimes, retailers may send (or hire an attorney to send) what is referred to as a civil demand letter. These demand letters usually attempt to exact a ‘fine’ or ‘restocking fees’ from an alleged shoplifter, whether the person was actually convicted or not. While a true civil suit may result in a judgment against you that must be paid, these civil demand letters are not provided for under the relevant Illinois statute and have no real legal weight.

Call an Experienced Attorney

Any criminal charge can be potentially life-changing, and when the stakes are so high, having a knowledgeable professional on your side can help. The talented DuPage County retail theft lawyers at Kathryn L. Harry & Associates, P.C. can sit down with you and try to help you understand the nature of these charges and how best to get through the process. Contact the office today to set up an appointment.