In bad economic times, people can get a little desperate and take something that doesn’t belong to them. Where, how and how much you steal can determine the type of criminal charges brought against you and your possible punishment.

What are the differences between retail theft, theft, robbery and burglary? What can you do?

Retail theft or shoplifting usually means taking something from a store. (720 ILCS 5/16-25.) If you took less than $300, you can be charged with a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail, but taking more than $300 is a Class 3 felony, punishable by 2 to 5 years in prison. For more information on the different types of retail theft, see our related post From Shoplifting to Removing Price Tags.

Theft is obtaining control over someone else’s property or accepting stolen property or deceiving someone out of their property. Theft can be taking money out of your employer’s cash drawer or selling nonexistent magazine subscriptions. (720 ILCS 5/16-1.) Depending on how much you take and whether it’s from a person, you can be charged from a Class A misdemeanor, on up to a Class X Felony, punishable by a minimum 6 years in prison.

Robbery is when you knowingly take something from a person by the use or threat of force. (720 ILCS 5/18-1.) Robbery is a Class 2 felony, punishable by 3 to 7 years in jail. If you rob someone who is over the age of 60, handicapped or is at a school or church or you threaten someone with a dangerous weapon, you may be charged with Aggravated Robbery, a Class 1 felony, punishable by 4 to 15 years. As of January 1, 2013, Illinois law now defines drugging someone in order to rob them as Aggravated Robbery.

Burglary involves stealing from a place. (720 ILCS 5/19-1.) If you knowingly enter or remain in a building without permission with the intent to commit a felony or theft, you may be charged with a Class 2 felony. If the building was a day care, school or church, your charges can be upgraded to Aggravated Burglary, a Class 1 felony.

If people live in the dwelling or you present to be a government official or utility worker, you can be charged with Residential Burglary, a Class 1 felony. (720 ILCS 5/19-3.) However, under a recent Illinois Appeals Court decision, a home is not considered a dwelling if the owners have moved away and do not intend to return, in which case you may only be charged with regular burglary. (People v Brett Roberts.)

So what if you are charged with some type of stealing, are you guaranteed that prison stay? Not necessarily. If you are charged with a crime, you should contact an experienced criminal law attorney immediately. An attorney can evaluate the circumstances of your case to present the best possible defense. As with most crimes, the state must prove all the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Did you take the item without permission? Were you authorized to be at the home or the building? Did the police have the probable cause to arrest you in the first place? In some cases, an attorney can bring a motion to have evidence against you dismissed. Even if the police handled your case by the book and the evidence against you is overwhelming, an attorney who is respected at the court house may 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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