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Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney
Former Cook County Felony Prosecutor

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Theft, Shoplifting, and the Two Felony Thresholds in Illinois

Petty theft and shoplifting are some of the most common criminal offenses. Because of this, you might think that the penalties would be minor.

However, a theft or shoplifting charge is actually quite serious – especially in Illinois.

Theft and shoplifting are penalized based on the value of goods allegedly stolen. Both offenses can be prosecuted as either a misdemeanor or a felony, with felony-level offenses having much more severe consequences. A felony-level offense is almost always punishable by jail time, is associated with hefty fines, and carries the long-term consequences of being a convicted felon – even after your sentence is complete.

This is particularly unfortunate in our state due to our felony theft thresholds. Here, most types of theft become a felony when the value of stolen goods is $500 or more. This is already one of the lowest felony thresholds in the nation. However, the threshold for shoplifting is even lower.

How low? Try $300.

This means that it’s very important to understand the laws surrounding theft and shoplifting in Illinois. Therefore, we’ve provided a guide covering how the law defines theft and shoplifting, and the sentencing and penalties you can expect for both offenses.

How Illinois Law Defines Theft and Shoplifting

Simply put, Illinois law defines the crime of theft as the unauthorized taking of property or services along with the requisite intent of the crime.

A more complex and exacting definition of theft is provided in the Illinois criminal statutes, which define theft as knowingly:

  • Taking unauthorized control over the property of another party
  • Obtaining control over another party’s property by threat or deception
  • Obtaining stolen property, either knowingly or under circumstances that should lead to reasonable belief that the property is stolen

Shoplifting occurs when the victim is a retailer. Unlike other states that incorporate shoplifting under general theft statutes, Illinois has specific laws for retail theft.

Additionally, our state defines shoplifting very broadly to encompass other acts intended to deprive the merchant of an item’s full value. For example, price switching.

In fact, in Illinois, doing any of the following things intentionally is considered shoplifting:

  • Taking, possessing, or carrying away any retail merchandise
  • Altering, transferring, or removing labels or price tags
  • Transferring merchandise from one package to another
  • Under-ringing merchandise
  • Misrepresenting the defendant’s ownership of property to a merchant
  • Using or possessing a device to shield theft protection

Additionally, Illinois recognizes the separate crime of theft by emergency exit. While which exit someone uses during retail theft may seem trivial, it could actually mean the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony, and lead to a more severe sentence if you are convicted.

Chicago Theft Charges

Theft Sentencing and Penalties in Illinois

Theft is sentenced and penalized based on the value of the allegedly stolen property in question. Additionally, certain circumstances of the offense itself can lead to enhanced sentencing.

Generally, Illinois classifies theft as follows:

  • Class A Misdemeanor Theft: Theft of property valued $500 or less, so long as the property is not taken directly from the victim’s person. This is punishable by imprisonment for less than one year and up to $2,500 in fines. Further, if you are a first-time offender, probation and diversion programs are likely options.
  • Class 4 Felony Theft: Theft of property valued $500 or less committed at a school, governmental property, or place of worship, or committed by a previous theft offender. This is punishable by 1-3 years in prison and up to $25,000 in fines.
  • Class 3 Felony Theft: Theft of property valued $500 or less directly from the victim’s person, or theft of property other than from the owner’s person valued at $500-$10,000. This is punishable by 2-25 years in prison and up to $25,000 in fines.
  • Class 2 Felony Theft: Theft of property valued at $10,000-$100,000. This is punishable by 4-15 years in prison and up to $25,000 in fines.
  • Class 1 Felony Theft: Theft of property valued at $100,000-$500,000. This is punishable by 4-15 years in prison and up to $25,000 in fines.

Shoplifting Sentencing and Penalties in Illinois

Shoplifting is also sentenced and penalized based on the value of merchandise taken, with enhanced sentencing if certain elements are present.

In Illinois, shoplifting is classified as follows:

  • Class A Misdemeanor: Theft of merchandise valued under $300, punishable by under one year in prison and fines of up to $2,500. Diversion programs and probation are often available to first-time offenders.
  • Class 4 Felony: Theft of merchandise valued under $300 by a prior shoplifting offender, or using an emergency exit. This is punishable by 1-3 years in prison and fines up to $25,000.
  • Class 3 Felony: Theft of merchandise valued over $300. This is punishable by 2-5 years in prison and fines up to $25,000.
  • Class 2 Felony: Theft of property valued over $300 using an emergency exit. This is punishable by 3-7 years in prison and fines up to $25,000.

Illinois Criminal Lawyer


Maybe. Maybe not – but it’s the law we have to live with right now. That’s why it’s particularly important to understand theft and shoplifting laws in our state, and to proactively fight back to beat any charges against you.


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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