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Can I Go to Prison for Shoplifting?

Retail theft is a serious criminal charge in Illinois that can result in a prison sentence under certain circumstances. Every year, billions of dollars’ worth of revenue is lost to shoplifting, making retail theft one of the most serious theft crimes that not many people take seriously enough.

If you are facing criminal charges for shoplifting in Illinois, you must secure legal representation from an experienced criminal defense attorney. Doing so can mean the difference between your freedom and facing unfair consequences for an offense you may not even have committed.

What Is Considered Shoplifting in Illinois?

Shoplifting is more formally referred to as retail theft, and it happens when someone knowingly leaves a retail establishment without paying for a product or service and with the intent to permanently deprive the establishment of payment.

In other words, shoplifting is leaving a retail establishment with a product, or after the performance of a service, without paying and never intending to pay for it in the future.

Even this simplified definition doesn’t quite get across what can be shoplifted and how it can be shoplifted, so let’s break it down.

Knowingly Leaving a Retail Establishment

If you are in a store and place an item in your pocket or backpack, you technically aren’t shoplifting. Who’s to say that you don’t intend to carry the item on your person until you reach a register where you can pay for it? Companies might have store policies against this kind of behavior because it often means shoplifting, but no retail theft legally occurs until you leave the store.

Consider the fact that some people bring their own bags to grocery stores. Are these people considered shoplifters because they’re placing unpaid items into bags they brought from home? Of course not. While putting a box of cereal into a bag from home looks a lot different than putting a bunch of CDs into your backpack, someone who does either shouldn’t be charged with shoplifting as long as they remain in the store before paying for those items.

Lastly, you must knowingly leave with something in your possession that you didn’t pay for. Imagine you are pushing your toddler in a stroller, and your child grabs an expensive item from a nearby shelf and places it somewhere in the stroller. If you knew what your child did and left the store, that could be considered shoplifting; if you didn’t, you can avoid criminal liability.

With a Product or Performed Service

Although most people think of shoplifting in terms of physical goods and merchandise, shoplifting can cover services, too. For example, leaving a salon without paying for your new hairdo – and never intending to return to pay for it – can be considered shoplifting.

Also consider that if a service is shoplifted, it must be a service performed. Climbing into a salon chair and leaving to take care of an emergency before the stylist gets started wouldn’t be considered shoplifting from a criminal law standpoint. No service was performed, so the business owner wasn’t deprived of payment for anything. It’s a bit of a gray area if you leave while a service is being performed, so any criminal liability would depend on the unique circumstances of such a situation.

Never Intending to Pay for a Product or Service in the Future

No one would be convicted of shoplifting if all they had to do was say they meant to pay for something later. Usually, demonstrating an intent to pay for a product or service in the future involves signing an agreement to do so or leaving behind a piece of collateral – such as your driver’s license or a valuable item – that would incentivize you to return and pay.

Is Retail Theft a Felony?

Retail theft is a wobbler in Illinois. This means that it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on circumstances such as how much value was allegedly shoplifted and if the person accused of shoplifting has prior convictions.

Penalties for Retail Theft in Illinois

Retail theft and shoplifting can result in serious fines and lengthy prison terms.

Take the following possible penalties into account:

  • Shoplifting something valued less than $300: Charged as a Class A misdemeanor, possible penalties include a $2,500 fine and one year in jail.
  • Shoplifting something valued less than $300 with a prior shoplifting conviction: Charged as a Class 4 felony, possible penalties include a $2,500 fine and 1-3 years in prison.
  • Shoplifting something valued more than $300: Charged as a Class 2 felony, possible penalties include a $25,000 fine and 3-7 years in prison.

In addition to these penalties, you may lose your right to own a firearm and may find it difficult to find employment. Store owners can also seek damages in a civil lawsuit for the full value of what was allegedly taken as well as up to an additional $1,000, attorney’s fees, and court costs.

Arrested for Retail Theft? Contact Us for Help.

These are all important considerations to take into account because it may not be possible to expunge a conviction for retail theft. The best way to recover from a conviction for shoplifting is to decrease your chances of getting convicted in the first place.

The Law Office of Steven Fine can provide the critical legal support you need during this time. Through personalized legal service, our experienced and skilled criminal defense attorney may be able to help you obtain a better outcome.

Learn more during a free initial consultation with us. Contact the Law Office of Steven Fine today to learn more.