Shoplifting Charges: A Parents Guide
SHOPLIFTING CHARGES: A PARENT’S GUIDE
By Martin LaScola
When a teen takes or attempts to remove items from a store without paying and is caught, they may face shoplifting charges, which are referred to as “retail theft” offenses in the various circuit courts throughout Illinois. Teens recklessly engage in this behavior when someone dares them, they are short of cash or just plain bored. They may even regard it as a harmless or non-serious activity that doesn’t hurt the store or themselves…especially if they don’t get caught.
But what if they do get caught?
As a parent, you should know the potential consequences for your child if he/she is caught shoplifting.
The Role of Loss Prevention
Loss Prevention Departments in retail stores are quite sophisticated these days. With cameras everywhere (except inside dressing rooms), most accusations can be proven with a review of a surveillance tape. Retail store owners cannot approach anyone with an accusation while you’re in the store, but if your child passes the last point of purchase (such as the checkout line), loss prevention can approach and confront them. If they do, it means they most likely have surveillance or an eyewitness account that may unequivocally prove that your child has shoplifted.
At this point, loss prevention has considerable discretion as to what to do next. They will most likely detain your child in the loss prevention office. What happens thereafter depends upon a variety of factors.
- Your child’s cooperation level
- Your child’s age
- If the behavior is repeat or not
- The cost of the merchandise in the attempted theft
- Store policy
Levels of Punishment
Before they actually press shoplifting charges, stores have the power to impose different levels of punishment, from a slap on the wrist to informing law enforcement of their desire to fully prosecute.
WARNING – The luckiest offenders will be warned not to repeat the behavior and be sent on their way. This may or may not be accompanied by a phone call to you, the parents. This result is rare and more often than not, there is a more severe response.
BAN FROM THE STORE – If the offense is an isolated event, loss prevention may ban your child from returning to the store. You may or may not receive a call from loss prevention on the matter. If your child is caught entering the store in the future after this warning, a charge of criminal trespass may result.
STATION ADJUSTMENT – The store calls the police and the parents. The child is given a stern warning and the parent must go to the police department to discuss the event with police and pick up their child. Station adjustments are generally a one-time break. If the teen is ever found in this situation again, he/she will likely be charged with a juvenile misdemeanor or even a felony. It is a myth that first time shoplifting charges are always misdemeanors; retail thefts alleging more than $300 of merchandise may be charged as a felony in Illinois.
For the above three outcomes, it is unnecessary to call a criminal attorney.
However, if the store decides to press shoplifting charges against your child (like in the scenarios below) your child must appear in juvenile court. If your child is 17 years of age or older, he/she will appear in adult court to face the charge of retail theft. In this scenario, it is highly recommended to call an attorney as soon as possible to minimize the damage to your child.
DEFERRED PROSECUTION PROGRAM – If the store chooses to bring shoplifting charges against your child, the prosecution has the option of putting first time offenders in a “deferred prosecution” program. The accused will be required to attend education courses and/or complete community service. After their required education program and/or public service is completed, the accused must appear in court to show proof of their completion and the prosecutor will enter an order dismissing the charges. The criminal charges are then dismissed– even if the prosecution had a strong, provable case against your child.
COURT SUPERVISION – Court Supervision is a sentence that does not appear on the child’s public criminal record. Illinois is one of the few states in which Court Supervision is an option for shoplifting charges involving first time offenders. Court Supervision involves a suspended sentence that will remain off an offender’s public criminal record if the sentence terminates satisfactorily. Sometimes individuals violate the terms of the Court Supervision by either failing to complete a sentencing requirement or getting arrested for a new offense. The possible punishment for violating a sentence of Court Supervision is the revocation of that sentence, resulting in a conviction being entered instead. This conviction appears on the public record and may not be expunged, or removed from their record, at a later date. However, your attorney can issue a Petition to Seal the conviction, which would remove the record from the public record database but keep it accessible to law enforcement. An expunged record completely removes the conviction and is more desirable than having the record sealed. However, if your child receives a felony conviction for shoplifting, it is neither expungable nor sealable and will likely remain on their public record indefinitely.
CONVICTION – Although rare for first time offenders, a period of Conditional Discharge or Probation may be imposed as a sentence in retail theft cases. Both of these sentences are characterized as convictions and result in a public criminal record. These sentences would be more likely if the minor (or young adult) has prior criminal history (either in delinquency or adult court). Juvenile detention or county jail time is another sentence resulting in a conviction, and may be imposed if a finding of guilty or plea of guilty is entered. Again, this sentence is rare for a first time offender and is normally the result of prior criminal history. As explained above, if your child is convicted of a misdemeanor, it may be possible to have their conviction sealed but if they receive a felony conviction, it will likely be on their public record indefinitely.
The best prevention for shoplifting is to be vigilant about your child’s behavior and to discuss the consequences of shoplifting charges with your child. Sometimes, shoplifting is just a one-time thing, but other times it can be a sign of bad peer influences or even mental illness in rare cases.
If you should ever find yourself in need of defense for shoplifting charges, please don’t hesitate to call the experienced team at Gardi, Haught, Fischer & Bhosale LTD.