Retail Theft Can Mean Big Trouble

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You’ve probably heard about how shoplifting, which some states refer to as “retail theft” and “concealment of merchandise,” is regarded by some as a victimless crime, and therefore should not be punished under the law. In Illinois, this act is called retail theft and it’s characterized by someone having, moving, or carrying any type of retail product away from the original location.

Retail theft is stealing, which means there is a victim from whom any shoplifted item was taken, regardless of that victim’s status in life. Many states have implemented statutes that address this supposed “victimless crime” directly, and the penalties are hardly lenient. When someone gets charged with theft, that person can be in big trouble.

Basic Elements of Retail Theft Laws Across the U.S.

The states may vary when it comes to their laws that cover retail theft or shoplifting, but there are two basic elements that they all have in common: The willful concealment or taking possession of the items on sale, and the intent of depriving the rightful owner of possession of their items on sale and not paying for them. The theft statute within the criminal code of Illinois is covered by 720 ILCS 5 16 2.

The first element alone can already get you in trouble. As long as you conceal the item on any part of your person, you are already in violation of shoplifting laws. As far as many states are concerned, concealing merchandise is already evidence of intent, which would be enough reason for you to get arrested and charged with retail theft.

Not paying for items on sale isn’t the only thing that could get you charged with retail theft. Altering the price tags, manipulating the items, or any action to avoid paying the full purchase price of the merchandise is also illegal.

720 ILCS 5 16 2 is often confused with 720 ILCS 5 16 1, but they cover different parts of closely related crimes. 720 ILCS 5 16 2 is specifically speaking to the crime of retail theft, rather than just general theft in 720 ILCS 5 16 1.

Degree of Shoplifting Charges

The value of the goods involved is generally the basis for the severity of the shoplifting charges that can be leveled at the suspect in Illinois. The range of the charges, however, vary from one state to another. The charge could be a minor infraction in some states, and a misdemeanor or even a felony in others. For those with prior convictions, they are likely to face more severe charges when caught shoplifting. In Illinois, retail theft is usually a misdemeanor, but it depends on the value of the goods taken. So, there is a wide degree of fluctuation depending on the severity of the crime. A felony for retail theft in Illinois is usually not on the table.

Consequences of Retail Theft

States also vary when it comes to punishing shoplifters. Infractions typically lead to a fine in many states. A misdemeanor could result in a jail term of less than one year or probation plus fines. When the shoplifting charge is a felony and it ends in a conviction, a court usually hands down a longer jail sentence as well as heftier fines. In Illinois, sentences are often less than one year and charged as a misdemeanor crime. A retail theft sentence can also include a fine of up to $2,500. But, it depends on the amount stolen, prior record of retail theft, and other factors.

Can Shop Owners Detain Shoplifters?

Detaining shoplifters is possible if the shop is within states that have laws that specifically give them the authority to do so when there is probable cause to suspect retail theft. These statues were created to protect shop owners from getting sued for false arrest or false imprisonment. The length and manner of such detentions, however, must be reasonable because if they’re not, the alleged shoplifters have every right to file a lawsuit against the store.

States require stores or its employees to have evidence that retail theft took place or that it was in progress to have probable cause to detain people suspected of shoplifting. Mere suspicion based on how an individual looks or behaves inside the store is not enough to warrant detention. Holding on to the suspect for too long is also not advisable. Using excessive force to detain a suspected shoplifter will cause problems as well.

Legal Help for Retail Theft

Should you find yourself at the receiving end of a retail theft charge, the best thing you can do is to secure the services of a criminal defense attorney. With a criminal defense lawyer representing you in court, your chances of getting the best possible result will become so much better.

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