As with most criminal charges, the State has to prove you guilty of all the elements of retail theft beyond a reasonable doubt. Retail theft is a tough crime to defend because often someone is caught in the act on video or by store personnel, and merchants are aggressive about prosecuting these charges.

However, your case may not be hopeless. Here are six ways you may be able to defend your retail theft charge:

1) Can the store prove it was you? In one Illinois appellate case, the store was able to prove that the person in a driver’s license had committed the crime but could not prove that the defendant was the person in the driver’s license.

2) Did you take the items knowingly? Maybe you were shopping with a “friend” who handed you the merchandise, but you honestly believed your friend had already paid for the goods. Or maybe the item appeared to be a free sample.

3) Can they prove you took possession of the goods? Maybe the shoplifted items were found in your car or even your shopping cart, but can the State prove you put them there? Did someone else have access to the area where the items were found?

4) Were the items actually offered for sale by the store? Maybe the items the store accuses you of stealing actually came from somewhere else. In one Illinois Appellate case, a defendant was seen dragging aluminum three lots away from the store that accused him of stealing. Defendant’s conviction was reversed because a store employee merely guessed that the alumnimum must have belonged to the store.

5) Did you intend to take the items permanently? This should be the easiest defense to prove but can be the hardest. Often, a shopper is distracted and forgets something in their cart. But the fact you walked past the last pay station can be used to infer that you intended to take the item. However, you may be able to show the circumstances were such that you really didn’t mean to walk out with the watch or the baby formula.

6) When all else fails: You may qualify for a special deferment program that will result in getting your retail theft charges dismissed along with a chance to clear or expunge your record.

If you are charged with retail theft, contact an experienced criminal law attorney at once. Do not speak of your situation to the police or third parties. Any statements you make can be used in evidence against you and may rule out a potential defense. An experienced criminal law attorney can review your case for the best possible defense. Even if the evidence against you is overwhelming, an attorney who is respected in the courthouse may be able to negotiate a better plea agreement than you could on your own.

If you have questions about this or another related criminal or traffic matter, please contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email

(Besides Skokie, Matt Keenan also serves the communities of Arlington Heights, Chicago, Deerfield, Des Plaines, Evanston, Glenview, Morton Grove, Mount Prospect, Niles, Northbrook, Park Ridge, Rolling Meadows, Wilmette and Winnetka.)

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