An increase in shoplifting offenses in Chicago has many business owners pointing fingers at the district attorney there, who had changed her office’s policy to reduce the number of felony-level shoplifting offenses her office pursued. The outcry, however, comes from a biased demographic and overlooks the harsh shoplifting laws that the district attorney is trying to mitigate.
A local news report summarized an investigation that found merchandise theft from retail stores – a technical term for shoplifting – was up 34% in Chicago from 2015. In 2018, there were 10,700 shoplifting cases across the city, the most since 2009.
The timing of the increase coincides with a change in office policy at the district attorney’s office. Shoplifting becomes a felony-level offense in the State of Illinois when the amount stolen is more than $300. However, the Chicago’s district attorneys’ office had been inundated with felony shoplifting charges – it was the top felony crime submitted to prosecutor review. So district attorney Kim Foxx decided in December 2016 that her office would only pursue felony shoplifting charges for more than $1,000 of stolen merchandise.
Now, businesses are blaming this new prosecutorial strategy for the rise in shoplifting. While the shoplifting rates were already increasing by 6% per year before the change in policy, they jumped 16% in 2017 after the relaxed rules went into effect.
Business owners say that thieves have been emboldened by the lower penalties.
Media reports of businesses blaming Chicago prosecutors, though, should come with a huge caveat: Of course they’re going to get angry over a rise in shoplifting crimes – they’re the ones who are victimized by it. Of course they’re going to demand higher penalties – they’re the ones who would benefit from it.
If store owners had their way, they’d probably push for capital punishment for a first offense of shoplifting. That would certainly deter the practice.
Reports of the outrage also overlook the fact that Illinois’ threshold for a felony offense of shoplifting is disturbingly low: You only have to take $300 of merchandise for it to be a felony.
Recall that the definition of a felony is a criminal charge that carries more than a year in jail and that a felony offense on your criminal background can make it almost impossible to get a job once your jail sentence is done.
Subjecting offenders to more than a year behind bars and ending their professional future for taking $300 worth of merchandise from a store seems high.
Unless you own a store.
The criminal defense lawyers at Maine Criminal Defense Group serve Mainers who have been accused of shoplifting in Portland, Saco, Biddeford, and throughout the state. Defending your rights and interests involves fighting both the prosecutors as well as the interests of store owners. Contact us online or call our law office in Portland at (207) 571-8146 for the legal representation you need.
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