Consequences of inadvertently failing to pay for groceries
Recently, I have been contacted by a number of persons who have become distracted while paying for groceries and have inadvertently left an item on their grocery cart and left the store without paying for it. At least one high end grocery store appears to have a policy of not allowing patrons to pay for the item and to aggressively prosecute its customers.
Persons are detained by the merchant and are arrested by the police. They are then charged with the offense of retail theft. Under Illinois law, 720 ILCS 5/16-25, “A person commits retail theft when 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 mercantile establishment with the intention of retaining such merchandise or with the intention of depriving the merchant permanently of the possession, use or benefit of such merchandise without paying the full retail value of such merchandise…” Walking past a cash register without paying for the item is considered an indication to commit a theft.
A violation of this provision of the retail theft statute if the value of the merchandise is under $300 is a Class A misdemeanor. A subsequent conviction for this offense is a Class 4 felony. It is a Class 3 felony if the value of the merchandise is over $300.
Although a first offender arrest for misdemeanor retail theft may be eligible for a diversion program, there may be devastating consequences should a person be convicted. These may include possible collateral employment and immigration consequences. Additionally, the merchant may try to obtain civil damages under 720 ILCS 5/16-27, which may consist of “(i) actual damages equal to the full retail value of the merchandise; plus (ii) an amount not less than $100 nor more than $1,000; plus (iii) attorney fees and court costs.”
It is better to try to be overly cautious when going through the check-out lane. That way you will not become a participant in the criminal justice system.
Lori G. Levin
Attorney at Law
180 N. LaSalle, Suite 3700
Chicago, IL 60601