Back to school shopping is expensive. Even with stores everywhere touting huge sales to help parents get their kids ready for the new school year, the cost can be prohibitive.
Recently, a Bedford Park woman took matters into her own hands by attempting to steal 90 back to school items from the local Walmart. She probably thought that it was no big deal, and may have even believed her choice justified.
But it wasn’t long before she discovered how seriously the state took her transgression. Though her public defender was able to help her avoid jail time, she was still fined $25,000 and ordered to complete weekly drug testing.
Breaking Down the Back to School Shoplifter Case
Alexandria Marchman, 22, was arrested on August 22 at a Bedford Park Walmart. With the help of a 14-year-old relative, she had been filling bags with school supplies, DVDs, food, and clothing. Authorities believe the 14-year-old is Marchman’s sister or sister-in-law. When loss prevention officers stopped them outside of the store, they found that they had stolen 90 items that were valued at $582.
Marchman was charged with felony retail theft and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. When she appeared in Cook County Court to await sentencing, her public defender pleaded to the judge that Marchman should not receive jail time in part because she has a 2-year-old child and is currently pregnant with her second. As mentioned above, the strategy worked – sort of – but she still has weekly drug tests and a huge fine hanging over her head.
In retrospect, Marchman probably shouldn’t have gone with a public defender. While it is impossible to say with absolute certainty that a private criminal lawyer with a successful track record handling retail theft cases would have gotten her a better deal, it is well known that public defenders are incredibly overworked. By necessity, they tend to juggle far more cases than they should, which hampers their ability to really craft the best possible defense strategy for any individual case.
Marchman may have felt like she couldn’t afford to pay for a private defense attorney. But maybe her feelings would have changed if she understood how serious – and expensive – the penalties for her crime really were. If an experienced shoplifting lawyer could have gotten the judge to waive her bond fee – or even half it – would a private defender have been worth it then?
You need to truly understand the “costs” facing you before making a decision like this. Let’s look at shoplifting specifically.
How Retail Theft Penalties and Charges Work in Illinois
Felony retail theft, the charge Marchman was tried for, is committed when an individual knowingly:
- Takes possession of, removes, or transfers merchandise in a retail establishment with the intention of depriving the merchants permanently of the merchandise
- Alters, transfers, or removes any label or price tag to obtain the merchandise for less than the full retail value
That’s right – even purchasing an item for less than the correct price could get you charged with retail theft.
Also, remember that Marchman and her accomplice stole less than $600 worth of merchandise. For just that seemingly small amount, she was charged with a felony and ended up being fined $25,000.
That may seem crazy, but it’s also the law. Penalties for theft in Illinois are determined based on the value of the goods stolen. But our state has extremely low theft thresholds.
As we have mentioned in a previous blog post, they are some of the lowest theft thresholds in the nation. And the retail theft threshold is even lower than the standard theft threshold in Illinois. While it takes $500 of general property to be charged with a felony, the threshold for retail theft is only $300!
The charges and penalties for different levels of retail theft include:
- Less than $300: Class A misdemeanor; up to a year in prison and fines of up to $2,500
- More than $300: Class 3 felony; between 2-5 years in prison and fines of up to $25,000
As you can see, those extra few items that put you above the $300 threshold make a big deal in sentencing. Luckily, there are ways to fight back – and alternatives.
Alternative Sentences for Theft in Illinois
Theft is taken very seriously in our state. However, for first time offenders like Marchman, you may not have to step inside a jail cell if you are convicted. You may be able to even avoid conviction altogether.
These three alternative sentencing options may be able to help you avoid a theft conviction on your record:
Supervision – Rather than ordering a conviction or imprisonment, a judge can order a defendant to be placed under supervision for a certain period of time. During this time, a defendant cannot commit additional crimes and may be subject to other restrictions or requirements (like drug testing). After the supervision period is over, the individual must wait five years before he or she can apply to have the theft charges removed.
Theft-Deterrent Program – This is another way to avoid conviction for your first-time theft offense. A theft-deterrent program may include obtaining employment, paying restitution to the victims of the theft, or completing a GED program. When the program is completed and proof of completion is given to the court, the prosecution will drop the charges against the defendant. Like supervision, an individual will have to wait five years after completing a theft-deterrent program to apply to have the charges expunged from his or her record.
Community Service – Theft-deterrent programs are not always available. In that case, community service hours can still help a defendant avoid incarceration or conviction. The waiting period for expungement is the same as a theft-deterrent program or supervision.
These options provide a good alternative to traditional sentencing, but you need to work with an experienced shoplifting lawyer who understands the options available to you and what strategy is most likely to get you the best possible outcome.
About the Author:
Andrew M. Weisberg is a former felony prosecutor who now serves as a defense attorney in the greater Chicago area. He has extensive experience in handling all types of criminal cases, from sex offenses and domestic violence to retail theft-related crimes, Murder, and drug crimes.