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Aggressive. Experienced.

Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney
Former Cook County Felony Prosecutor

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Mistaken Delivery? Returning It for Money Is a Crime in Illinois

The holidays are upon us, meaning that the mail is overloaded with packages of all kinds. During this hectic time of year, it’s not unusual to receive packages that aren’t addressed to you.

In some cases, it’s not even possible to return the package to its intended recipient. So in this case, what do you do with this unwanted item?

If the item happens to be worth some money, you might be tempted to return it to a local retailer for the cash or store credit. Good idea, right?

Illinois Law Says Returning a Misdelivered Item is Shoplifting

So, you head on down to a local retailer to try this, but the clerks keep giving you weird looks and disappearing. Then a big guy in a security uniform comes out and tells you to follow him. What’s happening? He says you’re accused of shoplifting.

What? You didn’t take anything from the store. You brought items into the store! How is this possible, you ask?

Unfortunately, under Illinois law, the blanket term of shoplifting describes a number of criminal behaviors. Returning an item to a store where you didn’t buy it in an attempt to collect cash or store credit is a form of shoplifting.

Surprised? Most people are. In fact, it’s completely possible for an otherwise law-abiding citizen to commit shoplifting without being aware that they were doing anything illegal.

Because of this, we’ve put together a guide covering the acts that constitute retail theft in Illinois, the penalties you could face if convicted, and how you can defend yourself if you’re accused of retail theft this holiday season.

Six Acts that Constitute Retail Theft in Illinois

Illinois has extensive criminal statutes covering retail theft specifically, which explicitly describe the acts that can be considered retail theft.

Under Illinois law, the following acts are considered retail theft:

Taking Merchandise without Paying

This the act that most people think of as shoplifting. This can happen whether you hide the item in your purse, leave it in your cart at checkout, or simply walk out without paying for it.

Tampering with Price Tags or Other Labels

Switching the price tags of a more expensive item with that of a lower priced item, or manipulating any labels used by the store (for example clearance stickers), is a crime. It is viewed as an attempt to pay less than the true value of the item.

Switching Merchandise from One Container to Another

Similar to price switching, some shoplifters move more expensive merchandise from the original packages into the packaging of a less expensive items. This is an attempt to pay a lower price for the higher-cost item.

Return Scams

As we highlighted above, attempting to return an item to a store where you didn’t buy it constitutes retail theft. Thieves commonly steal merchandise from one store and attempt to return it to another.

Chicago Retail Theft Crimes

Keeping Merchandise Past Lease Expiration

If you rent an item from a retail store, you can be charged with retail theft for failing to return the item.

Defeating Anti-Theft Devices

Tampering with or otherwise disarming anti-theft devices in a retail store can also land you shoplifting charges. Often offenders will go into dressing rooms for a more private place to tamper with (or remove) the devices.

In many cases, you don’t even need to attempt to steal an item for the charges to apply. For example, if you’re caught price tag switching, you’ll face charges even if you never bring the item in question to the register.

Illinois Shoplifting Sentencing and Penalties

Shoplifting charges are prosecuted based on the total value of the merchandise allegedly shoplifted, and certain circumstances surrounding the offense. Essentially the threshold between lower-level sentencing depend upon the following factors:

  • Whether or not the items taken were more or less than $300 value
  • Whether an emergency exit was used
  • Whether the offender has prior charges or convictions

Prison terms range between one and seven years based on those factors, and fines can run from $2,500 to $25,000. Talk to an experienced Illinois criminal defense attorney to better understand the consequences you could face based on the specifics of your case.

Defending Yourself Against Retail Theft Charges

Clearly, retail theft charges are nothing to mess around with. Under certain circumstances, you could face felony-level charges – even for a first-time offense.

Common Defense Strategies

Fortunately, there are many defense strategies that could be used to help your case:

  • Mistake of fact
  • Lack of intent
  • Entrapment
  • Return of property
  • Impaired mental state

Options Beyond Trial

If the evidence against you is strong, or your attorney otherwise advises you not to take the case to trial, you still have options:

  • Pretrial diversion programs for first-time offenders, in which the charges are dropped upon successful completion of the program
  • Plea bargaining with the prosecution, which involves entering a guilty plea in exchange for less-severe charges and/or sentencing

Defending Yourself Against Retail Theft Charges in Illinois

No matter what the case, if you are facing shoplifting charges, it is in your best interest to respond quickly and proactively to minimize your chance of long-lasting criminal consequences.

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.

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