Changes to the Illinois Retail Theft Laws
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Illinois lawmakers have recently enacted changes to the retail theft laws in the state. The changes were made to the definition of the crime, as well as to the penalties for these crimes. Understanding the new laws can help criminal defendants understand their rights and the nature of the charges against them.
Elements of Retail Theft
The new laws have significantly changed the elements of retail theft. The new law states that an individual is guilty of this crime when he or she knowingly possesses, carries away, causes to carry away or transfers any merchandise displayed for sale in a retail establishment with the intent of keeping the merchandise and not paying for it. Additionally, it is a crime if a person alters, transfers or removes a label or price tag. Likewise, if an employee charges less for the merchandise than he or she is supposed to, this can be considered under-ringing and a crime. It is also a crime to use or possess a theft detection shielding device that allows a person to walk through security without alerting it to the stolen merchandise. Price switching, misappropriating property for personal use or representing that the defendant is the owner of stolen property to get a refund from the store are other ways that retail theft may be committed.
Inference of Guilt
The retail theft statute allows the court to draw an inference of the defendant’s guilt if he or she is found in possession of concealed and unpurchased merchandise or if the person removes the merchandise after leaving the cash register area. However, this is only an inference and evidence may be presented to refute guilt.
For example, many individuals leave a store unintentionally with merchandise. The retail theft statute requires an intent, so if something was taken by mistake, the prosecutor should not be able to show the requisite intent. In these situations, the law presumes that they are innocent unless proof beyond a reasonable doubt is presented to convict the defendant.
In many retail theft cases, the defendant may make a statement in which he or she admits to being in possession of a particular item. However, being in possession of merchandise does not mean that the merchandise was stolen, even if the merchandise was not paid for. A person who makes a statement of this nature may be honest and may try to rectify the situation but then find that these statements are taken out of context and used to show the defendant’s guilt. However, an admission of this nature does not show that the individual actually intended to commit a crime.
Penalties for Retail Theft
When the retail theft law changed, the penalties for the offense also changed. The old law made it a felony if the individual was in possession of stolen merchandise that was worth more than $150. However, the new law increased this value threshold to $300. As long as the retail value of the property is $300 or less, it is charged as a misdemeanor crime. It is important to understand the differences between misdemeanor and felony offenses. A felony offense results in a permanent conviction that Illinois law does not permit to be expunged. Misdemeanor offenses can sometimes be expunged under certain circumstances.
A misdemeanor offense can be charges by a penalty up to a fine of $2,500 and one year in jail. Under a misdemeanor offense, the defendant may be able to receive supervision. This is not technically a conviction and can result in expungement. A jail sentence is served at 50 percent of the time ordered. A defendant may also be required to pay restitution for the value of the stolen items. The court can also order additional criminal penalties, including other forms of restitution or the payment of fines. He or she may also be ordered to pay the store owner’s court costs and attorneys’ fees.
If the value of the property is over $300, the crime is considered a Class 3 felony. This can result in a penalty between two and five years in prison. Additionally, the individual may face a fine up to $25,000. However, if the defendant has a prior history of theft-related crimes such as home invasion, forgery, unlawful use of a credit card, armed robbery, burglary, residential burglary, possession of burglary tools or theft, he or she may be charged with an enhanced felony.
Contact a Lawyer for Assistance
If you are charged with retail theft in Illinois, contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer for assistance.
Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.