The offense of retail theft is taken very seriously in the State of Illinois. Some stores treat inadvertently leaving an item in a grocery cart as retail theft and call the police to apprehend the person who does so. Seeking to then pay for the item may not stop the merchant from calling the police and prosecuting the customer.
Retail theft is defined as when a person "knowingly…takes possession of, carries away, transfers or causes to be carried away or transferred any merchandise displayed, held, stored or offered for sale in a retail mercantile establishment with the intention of retaining such merchandise or with the intention of depriving the merchant permanently of the possession, use or benefit of such merchandise without paying the full retail value…"
Walking past the register with the item in full display in the cart, even after paying for other merchandise, may be considered an indication to commit a theft. Similarly, concealing the item of the accused person or its possessions is also considered an indication of intent to steal.
A first offense where the value is under $300 is a Class A misdemeanor in Illinois. Class A misdemeanors are punishable by supervision, probation or up to a year in jail. A second conviction may be charged as a Class 4 felony, and will not be eligible for supervision. Persons convicted of Class 4 retail theft are eligible for probation or may be sentenced to 1 to 3 years in the penitentiary. If the value of the merchandise is more than $300, it is a Class 3 felony. A person convicted of a Class 3 felony may receive probation or could be sentenced to 2 to 5 years in the penitentiary.
First offenders charged with misdemeanor retail theft may be eligible for a diversion program, such as "Theft School." A first offender charged with felony retail theft may be eligible for Second Chance Probation. Second Chance Probation lasts for at least 24 months and entails many conditions including restitution, finds, school attendance and/or employment or attempts to obtain employment. Only after all of those conditions are met, will the case be dropped.
If a persons is convicted of retail theft, there may be devastating consequences. These may include employment and immigration repercussions. The retail establishment may also, by law, seek civil damages whether or not the person is actually convicted.
When a person is arrested for retail theft, it is a very serious matter. An experienced criminal defense lawyer should be contacted immediately to assist and defend the accused.