Retail theft, also commonly known as shoplifting, is a crime that can result in substantial criminal penalties as well as a potential civil lawsuit. Persons who face shoplifting charges in Illinois should take their case very seriously.
Generally, penalties can vary depending on the specific type of offense, the value of the merchandise in question and the offender's existing criminal record. In a civil suit, a damages award can cover the value of the merchandise and the expenses of the plaintiff in pursuing the lawsuit. A merchant may be able to prevail in a civil suit even if the criminal case does not result in a conviction due to the difference in standards of proof in criminal and civil cases.
Actions that constitute shoplifting
The typical shoplifting offense consists of taking items out of a store without paying for them. Other variations include switching or otherwise tampering with price tags in order to pay less than an item's value. Disabling anti-theft devices, making fraudulent returns or failing to return a leased item on time can also result in charges. Generally, any action that intends to underpay or avoid paying the merchant can result in allegations of retail theft.
When the retail value of the shoplifted items adds up to $300 or less, the offense is a class A misdemeanor and can entail penalties of up to one year in prison and/or a fine of up to $2,500. If the offender uses an emergency exit to shoplift, the law elevates the offense to a class 4 felony and raises the maximum fine to $25,000 and the prison term to between one and three years. The existence of prior convictions for theft or similar offenses has the same effect. When both the use of an emergency exit and prior related convictions exist, the offense can be a class 3 felony and result in prison time ranging from two to five years; the maximum fine remains $25,000.
When the value of the merchandise exceeds $300, the offense is a class 3 felony, punishable by fines of up to $25,000 and a prison term of two to five years. If the offender uses an emergency exit, it will count as a class 2 felony. While the maximum fine will remain the same, the prison term increases to between three and seven years. For either case, the value of the shoplifted items can stem from one instance or from several incidents over the course of one year.