Sticker Shock: The Cost of Shoplifting
It could be necessity, desperation, mistake, or even thrill seeking that leads to shoplifting. Whatever the motivation, you may be better prepared to deal with the dread and embarrassment you feel as the store’s security team takes you aside, than with the legal trouble that follows. Depending on the value of goods taken, retail theft, also known as shoplifting, can be a misdemeanor or felony under Illinois law. You could face both criminal and civil penalties. You do not even have to plead guilty or be convicted in order to be sued in civil court.
Basics of Retail Theft
The crime of retail theft involves more than just taking something, hiding it, and trying to leave the store. The following actions are all considered part of retail theft:
- Changing or removing bar codes and tags on merchandise to make it ring up cheaper at the register;
- Blocking security devices attached to the merchandise to stop the device from going off as the goods are passed through scanners;
- Returning an item to the store for credit using a fake receipt or other such item;
- Taking something from the store without paying for it, and exiting through the emergency exit; and
- Taking a shopping cart without meaning to return it to the store.
Penalties for Retail Theft
For most first time offenders, if the value of goods stolen is less than $300, they will be charged with a misdemeanor. However, there are specific instances where even a first time offender can face a felony charge; for example, when you are charged with shoplifting and then exiting the store through the emergency exit to avoid being caught. Additionally, if you have ever been convicted of any crime involving theft, including forgery and residential burglary, then even if this is your first time being charged with retail theft, you will be charged with a Class 4 felony.
If convicted of a retail theft misdemeanor, you face up to one year in prison, and various fines and court fees. If charged with a felony, you could be sentenced to one to five years in prison and even higher fines.
Stay Quiet and Speak with an Attorney
While your instinct may tell you to try and admit your way out of the situation with store security, it is not always the smartest course of action. Just because you confess and offer to pay for the goods, does not mean the store personnel have to let you go. Often times they will still call the police and press charges, providing the police with any statements you made to them.
Remember, store security personnel are not police officers. Therefore, they are not required to follow the same procedures in detaining you. If they have reasonable grounds to believe you are a shoplifter, they are allowed to do the following:
- Request that you present some sort of I.D.;
- Verify your I.D.;
- Ask you if you have any unpurchased merchandise in your possession; and
- If the person being detained is a minor, try and find out who the parents or guardians are, and inform them of the situation.
If store security follows these guidelines, and the detention is for a reasonable length of time and is done in a reasonable manner, then they are not likely to be civilly liable for false imprisonment.
Minors Caught Shoplifting
It is important to note that if a minor is caught shoplifting, his or her parents or guardian will be civilly responsible for the cost of the merchandise stolen. This provision of the law applies to minors under the age of 19 years old who still live with their parents or guardians.
Contact an Attorney
If you or someone you know has been charged with retail theft in Illinois, it is important to seek legal representation immediately. To deal with the charges, you need an attorney who will aggressively defend you. Contact the experienced attorneys at Law Office of Glenn M. Sowa, LLC to see how we can help.