Retail Theft and the Civil Penalty in Illinois

file221258166932-300x225Everybody knows that if you are arrested and charged with a Retail Theft, or Shoplifting, you will be facing serious criminal penalties that could have serious implications for your future. How many people are surprised to find out that in addition to the criminal implications of a Retail Theft, they will probably soon be facing a potential Civil Penalty. This part of a Retail Theft arrest is not well understood by clients. Many clients mistakenly believe that what happens in one aspect of a Retail Theft case will affect the other aspect of the Retail Theft case. In other words, many people believe that if they just pay the Civil Penalty then the criminal case will be dismissed. This is not how things work and people need to understand what the Civil Penalty is and how it relates to a Retail Theft.

Most people charged with a Retail Theft will be facing a Class A Misdemeanor. The potential penalty for a Retail Theft depends on the value of the item(s) that you stole, or attempted to steal. The cut-off between a Misdemeanor and a Felony officially is $300. If the aggregate value of the items is $300 or less, you will be charged with a Misdemeanor. If the aggregate value of the item(s) is $300 or more, you may be charged with a Felony. A Class A Misdemeanor conviction for a Retail Theft carries a maximum punishment of up to one year in county jail and a maximum fine of $2,500. Most Felony Retail Theft charges are Class 4 Felonies in Illinois. A Class 4 Felony charge for Retail Theft in Illinois carries a maximum punishment of one to three years in prison and a maximum fine of $25,000.

In the past few years I have seen a drastic increase in the number of Retail Theft cases charged as a Municipal Ordinance Violations. Almost every City, Town, and Village has set up a Municipal Violation court system that moves cases from the County Criminal Court to an Administrative Municipal Ordinance Violation Court that is controlled by the Town or the Village in which the offense occurred. The Judge who presides over the case is an Administrative Law Judge who is employed by the municipality. Many times the Administrative Law is a full-time employee of the town. The standard of proof in a Municipal Court is much lower than in a Criminal Court. A Municipal Ordinance Violation is a civil matter between you and the municipality. The Rules of Evidence are relaxed and the penalties that can be imposed by an Administrative Law Judge in a Municipal Court are civil in nature. In other words, the penalties are monetary as opposed to Criminal. However, depending on the County, the Town, and the facts and circumstances of your arrest, the Municipal Ordinance Violation may appear in a background search. If you were fingerprinted, your Retail Theft may appear in a background search. Some Counties will put your case in the Court computer system which could be found in a background search. Many employers will not hire someone if they suspect that the prospective employee may steal from them. Therefore, it is imperative that you consult with an experienced Retail Theft lawyer if you receive a Municipal Ordinance Violation. An experienced Retail Theft attorney will know whether there’s a possibility that a Retail Theft Municipal Ordinance Violation may appear in a background search. You cannot simply assume that a Municipal Ordinance Violation for Shoplifting will not appear on a background search.

There are similarities between a Retail Theft and a DUI. In a DUI, you will be facing a criminal charge in criminal court and at the same time you will be facing the Statutory Summary Suspension of your driver’s license. The Statutory Summary Suspension of your driver’s license is a civil matter between you and the Illinois Secretary of State. In a DUI arrest, the civil matter regarding your driver’s license between you and the Illinois Secretary of State arises automatically under the law. In a Retail Theft, a civil matter also arises between you and the store by operation of law. But unlike in a DUI, the civil matter in a DUI is not automatic. In order for the civil matter between you and the store to arise in a Retail Theft, the store has to take steps to enforce their rights. In Illinois, if you steal, or attempt to steal something from a retail establishment, the law gives the store the right to go after you for civil damages up to an amount that equals the value of the items that you stole or try to steal, plus their expenses, plus no more than $1,000.

If the store is coming after you for the Civil Penalty, you will receive a letter from their lawyer, usually within a few weeks, advising you that they will be coming after you and setting forth the amount of money that they are seeking. If you do not pay this amount, the lawyer will turn over the matter to a collection agency and they may sue you in civil court for the money damages. If you do not pay this amount you will not go to jail. Sometimes, paying this amount may help you catch a break in the Criminal Court or in the Municipal Court. Paying the civil damages will not cause the criminal case or the Municipal Ordinance Violation case to be dismissed. The criminal aspect of the Retail Theft and the civil aspect of a criminal case are separate and distinct. The criminal case is between you and the People of the State of Illinois or the municipality, and the civil matter is between you and the retail establishment. These matters will be handled by different lawyers and will proceed in different courts.

James Dimeas is a nationally-recognized, award-winning Retail Theft lawyer with over 25 years of experience handling Retail Theft cases throughout Chicago, Cook County, DuPage County, Kane County, and Lake County. James Dimeas has been recognized as a “Top 100 Criminal Defense Trial Lawyer” by the National Trial Lawyers. The American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys have named James Dimeas a “10 Best Attorney for Client Satisfaction.” James Dimeas has been named a “Best DUI Attorney” and a “Best Criminal Defense Lawyer in Chicago” by Expertise. Recently, the American Society of Legal Advocates name James Dimeas a “Top 100 Criminal Defense Lawyer In the State of Illinois For the year 2018.” AVVO rates James Dimeas as “Superb”, the highest rating possible for any Retail Theft attorney in the United States of America.

If you are being charged with a Criminal or Municipal Ordinance Retail Theft, you can contact James Dimeas anytime for a free and confidential consultation. James Dimeas can be reached anytime by calling him at 847-807-7405.

Additional Resources:

Illinois Civil Liability Statute, 720 ILCS 5/16-27.

Illinois Retail Theft Statute, 720 ILCS 5/16-25.

Additional Blogs:

I Am Charged with Retail Theft and I Received a Letter Demanding Payment From the Store’s Lawyers. Do I Have to Pay?, by James G. Dimeas, Chicago Criminal Lawyer Blog, August 28, 2017.

The Different Ways You Can Be Guilty of a Retail Theft in Illinois, by Jame G. Dimeas, Chicago Criminal Lawyer Blog, June, 6, 2017.