Crimes against property are dealt with very seriously in Illinois and can result in serious legal consequences. While many people may consider shoplifting a minor offense, in reality it has the potential to result in sanctions including significant fines and even jail time. Consequently, it is extremely important that anyone accused of shoplifting mount a strong legal defense as soon as possible after being accused. The assistance of an attorney can ensure that your legal rights are protected and can often result in a much better outcome in your case than you would be able to obtain if you were to proceed unrepresented. In fact, in certain cases an attorney may even be able to have a shoplifting case completely dismissed.
The shoplifting statute in Illinois is found in 720 ILCS 5/16-25. Known officially as “retail theft,” the elements of the crime are fairly straightforward: the statute criminalizes knowingly taking possession, carrying away, transferring or causing 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 of such merchandise. In addition, the following conduct also is considered retail theft:
· Altering, transferring, or removing price tags or other markings indicating value;
· Moving merchandise from one container to another in an effort to get a better price;
· For a cashier, under-ringing the value of merchandise;
· Removing a shopping cart with the intention of keeping it;
· Fraudulent returns;
· Using a device to jam or remove a theft protection device;
· Failing to return or pay for leased property upon the expiration of a lease; and
· Using an emergency exit to remove property from a store.
The law allows for a court or a jury to draw an inference of guilt if a person accused of retail theft conceals merchandise on his or her body and subsequently takes it beyond the last point of sale in the store. This means that a person does not actually have to leave the store in order to be accused of shoplifting.
While many people intentionally engage in retail theft, often those accused of shoplifting simply made a mistake by placing something in a bag or simply did not realize they had an item in their hand or on their bodies. Importantly, the statute requires that all of the above acts be performed “knowingly,” so the state must be able to establish that a person accused of shoplifting actually intended to take the item or items at issue. The state must establish this fact beyond a reasonable doubt, and a skilled criminal defense attorney can often present evidence that tends to show that person accused of shoplifting did not mean to take the merchandise without paying for it.
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