Alternatives to Prison for a Retail Theft Conviction
“It’s a victimless crime.” “It’s not that big of a deal.” “The company that makes this already has plenty of money—they’re not suffering.” These are the kinds of excuses used to rationalize retail theft, also known as shoplifting, and make it sound less as a crime and more as a Robin Hood-esque act of liberation.
Retail theft may not seem like that big a deal when you’re slipping a bottle of mouthwash or a pair of designer jeans under your jacket, but the state of Illinois takes this kind of crime very seriously. It falls under Illinois Criminal Statute 720 ILCS 5/16A-3, and even a first-time offense can lead to jail time in some cases. Prison is generally a disproportionate sentence for the crime of shoplifting, however, and a skilled retail theft lawyer should be able to convince a judge to give a lesser sentence or drop the charge altogether.
Typical Sentences for Retail Theft in Illinois
If you’re charged with retail theft in Illinois, you’ll face different penalties depending on the monetary value of the item or items you allegedly stole. The court will look at the total value of the merchandise if you stole multiple items, so if you took 15 pay-as-you-go phones that were sold at a price of $20.99 each, you would have more than $300 in retail theft. If you got caught shoplifting with a group of people, the court would look at the value of all the items your group took, so if you only took a $5 item but your friends took $296 worth of merchandise, you would still be charged for stealing over $300 of merchandise.
If the item(s) is/are worth less than $300: You’ll be charged with a Class A misdemeanor. This charge has a maximum sentence of one year and jail and a fine of $2,500. The conviction would also show up on your criminal record and could not be expunged or sealed (removed from public records).
If the item(s) is/are worth more than $300: You’ll face a conviction for a Class 4 felony. This type of conviction usually comes with 1-3 years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000. As with a Class A misdemeanor, you could not have the charge expunged or sealed if convicted.
Those harsh penalties are for people who have no prior retail theft convictions on their record. If the accused has a prior theft-related offense, they will automatically be charged with a Class 4 felony regardless of the dollar amount of the merchandise they allegedly stole.
Potential Alternatives to Serving a Prison Sentence
Individuals charged with retail theft don’t always fully understand the consequences of taking something without paying. It may have been done in the heat of the moment after a bad day, as a response to a sense of being wronged or deserving something for free, or even as an act of desperation. Those who commit retail theft rarely consider the fact that they may face punishment as extreme as 1-3 years in prison, a sentence that would put their life on hold, make it difficult for them to find a job post-incarceration, and make it hard to take out loans or go back to school.
It’s imperative that anyone charged with retail theft in Illinois contact an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Every case is different, but your attorney may be able to use the specific details of your case to get you a reduced sentence such as:
Supervision. Much like probation, supervision requires law enforcement officials to monitor the defendant to make sure that they are not arrested again and do not violate any other terms of their supervision. If a judge offers you supervision and you keep your record clean during the prescribed period of time, you will not be convicted and will not have to serve prison time for your retail theft. However, the downside is that you cannot petition to expunge your criminal record for five years after the period of supervision, meaning it will show up if you need to have a background check for college, job, or loan application.
Deferred prosecution. If this is your first offense and the dollar amount of the merchandise you took is relatively low, most judges should recognize that prison is a disproportionate sentence. With a defense attorney advocating for your rights, you may be able to receive a deferred prosecution on the grounds that you complete a theft-deterrent class. Once you can document that you took this class, the prosecution will drop the charge against you, and your retail theft will not go on your criminal record. Even the record of arrest and court proceedings can be expunged immediately so that it will not show up on a background check.
Community service. The goal of community service is to give a non-violent, low-risk defendant the opportunity to make amends, and it’s often an option when education-based theft-deterrent programs aren’t available in the nearby area. If you choose community service, a judge will decide on the number of hours and often the activity to be performed, and upon completion, your case will be dismissed and you will be able to expunge the arrest and court proceedings from your record.
Don’t Take Any Chances—Work with a Skilled Retail Theft Attorney
Having read the alternatives to prison above, you might be thinking that the circumstances of your retail theft case will automatically make you a great candidate for something like community service or deferred prosecution. However, it’s dangerous to start thinking that the judge will automatically give you a lesser sentence as soon as you explain your perspective—the state of Illinois takes a hard line when it comes to any theft crimes, and you’ll need a lawyer who has handled this kind of case before to give you the best possible chance of getting a lesser sentence or having the charge dropped altogether. Don’t gamble with something this important; contact a Chicago retail theft lawyer as soon as possible.
About the Author:
Andrew M. Weisberg is a former felony prosecutor who now serves as a defense attorney in the greater Chicago area for the Law Offices of Andrew Weisberg. He has extensive experience in handling all types of criminal cases, from sex offenses and violent crimes to theft-related crimes and traffic violations.