Written by attorney W. Scott Hanken

Illinois Shoplifting/Retail Theft Issues

Retail Theft & Shoplifting

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.

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 Devices

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


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.

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 $245 of goods and the accused had only $60 (for a total of $305), then it is a felony.

Theft by Emergency Exit (ENHANCED PENALTY)

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, attorney's fees and court costs. Additionally, most retailers will issue a no trespassing notice barring future entry onto the location involved.

Despite urban legend or many individual's mistaken beliefs, payment of the civil penalty does not result in the dropping of charges or the retailer not pursuing criminal charges. These are two seperate and distinct issues.


When a store employee challenges you by asking you to return to the store because they think you stole an item or switched price tags, they are not held to the same standards as police officers. They do not have to advise you of your MIRANDA rights before taking statements from you. Many accused shoplifters think that if they write a statement, the problem can be settled quickly without police involvement. You are not obligated to give store personnel any information. In many cases the police are called regardless of whether you cooperated with store personnel.

If the Police are called and you are arrested you are not required to make any statements concerning the situation and you should remain silent. Do not fall into the trap of thinking you can explain the situation and all will be forgiven.

Whether you signed a statement or not the you will be arrested if the Police believe probable cause exists based upon store employee's statements and/or a review of any video surveillance tapes.

Don't let this embarrassing event ruin your life. Protect your rights and know your options about retail theft.

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