Penalties for the offense of retail theft under Illinois law

by Sami Azhari on August 20, 2010

Retail Theft Illinois

Shoplifting is a serious crime in Illinois and the law imposes harsh penalties on anyone who is caught stealing from a store. The statute in Illinois governing the criminal offense of retail theft is 720 ILCS 5/16A-13. Anyone who is charged with retail theft for the first time is likely to be surprised at how easily this offense becomes a felony.

Taking Items Without Paying

The typical case of retail theft involves some factual scenario where the accused took something from a store without paying for it. This is referred to as shoplifting.

The law provides the following:

A person is guilty of retail theft if he or she knowingly takes possession of, carries away, transfers, or causes to be carried away or transferred any merchandise displayed, held, stored or offered for sale in a retail merchantile establishment with the intention of retaining such merchandise or depriving the merchant permanently of the possession, use or benefit of such merchandise, without paying the full retail value. See 720 ILCS 5/16A-3(a).

Changing Price Tags

It is also retail theft to alter, transfer or remove any label or price tag from merchandise and attempt to purchase the same personally or with someone else at less than the full retail value.

For example, lowering the price of an item by changing the price tag or swapping one price tag for another is retail theft because the accused has not paid full retail value.


It is retail theft for an employee such as a cashier to ring up a customer for less than the full retail value of the items. If the employee unlawfully applies discounts or charges the consumer for different goods that cost less, it is retail theft.

False Returns

A person is guilty of retail theft if he presents a receipt, gift card, or other document purporting to show that he is the owner of the property when this is not true, and he returns it for a cash refund, store credit, or other exchange.

Keeping Property After Expiration of Lease

It is retail theft for a person who is renting property to keep the property after the lease is over and failing to return it or pay the full retail value within 10 days of written demand for its return.

For example, a person renting a television who fails to return the television after breach of contract to the store may be guilty of retail theft.

In the circumstances, the prosecution only needs to prove that the merchant gave notice in writing to the address shown on the leasing agreement.

Jamming Device

It is retail theft to use any electronic device such as a jamming device to pass merchandise through security without an alarm.

Penalty for Retail Theft

Sentencing for retail theft depends on the dollar amount of the goods that were taken.

If the value of the items was $150 or less, then the offense is a Class A misdemeanor. The possible sentence includes up to one year in jail and fine of $2,500. A conviction for this offense cannot be expunged or sealed.

If the total value of merchandise was greater than $150, then the defendant can be charged with a Class 4 felony. This type of felony has a sentence of 1-3 years in prison (Illinois Department of Corrections) and a fine of $25,000. No felony conviction can be expunged or sealed, generally.

Starting January 1, 2011, retail theft laws in Illinois will change so that it is a misdemeanor if the value is $300 or less. This is a major improvement in the law, considering that prices keeping increasing and many, many first time offenders are felony eligible.

Prior Offense Causes Enhanced Penalty

If the defendant has a prior offense of retail theft, or any theft-related offense such as robbery, armed robbery, residential burglary, possession of burglary tools or home invasion, the offense is automatically a Class 4 felony.

Aggregate Value

The court decides the value of the goods by the total value of the goods that were in the accused’s possession during the retail theft. Thus, even if each individual item was only $5, if the combined value was more than $150 (for 2010) or $300 (for year 2011 and later), then it is a felony charge.

If the defendant participated in a group during the retail theft, it is the combined value of goods for all persons involved. So, for example, if the co-defendants had $145 of goods and the accused had only $6 (for a total of $151), then it is a felony.

Concealing Items in Purse, Bag or Under Clothes

If the accused is caught leaving the premises with goods hidden in a bag, purse, or under his clothes, then it is presumed that the person was stealing. The issue is whether the person had already past the last pay station (eg, cashier). If so, the it is presumed to be theft.

Theft by Emergency Exit

Leaving a store through an emergency exit with stolen merchandise is a felony even on the first offense. It is a Class 4 felony (1-3 years prison) to leave through an emergency exit on the first offense, regardless of value, and a Class 3 felony (2-5 years prison) on the second. See 720 ILCS 5/16A-3.5.

Civil Penalties

A person who was arrested for this offense should expect to receive notices in the mail from law firms demanding payment for civil penalties. The law provides that the store can collect up to $1,000 in addition to the value of the goods taken.

All too often defendants believe that if they pay the penalty, the case will be dropped. This is not true.

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