Retail theft is a misdemeanor in Illinois for first offenders (unless the value of the property allegedly taken exceeds $300). It is a common charge among the general public. College students, spouses, retired persons and professionals have all been charged with the offense. Usually the person charged feels very embarassed worries about publicity they may face if their arrest is published in the news be it online or printed. Aside from embarassment many persons worry about the impact it could have on their college career or profession. A retail theft client is normally arrested, issued a citation, ordered to appear in court to answer the charge, and posts a small bond or is given a notice to appear. It is at that time they need to determine which attorney they will retain to fight the charge.
In Illinois the statutes allow for dispositions that include conviction and probation. They also allow for what is termed "court supervision". Some counties also have ways to obtain a dismissal of the charge through diversion programs. St. Clair county has what is called Offender Accountability Programs. These diversion programs ultimately result in a dismissal after completion of some classes or other regularly scheduled meetings. Veterans Court and Mental Health Court are two additional options depending on which county the charge is filed. Not all counties have these alternative courts. Other cases can be outright dismissed through negotiations. Each case is of course fact dependent. Many major retailers have exceptionally high quality video that can track an offender from the time they pull onto the parking lot all the way through the premises. They use facial recognition software and can compile a video of the entire events. The videos are routinely used in prosecutions by the State. Lastly, even if there are strong facts against the client, the charge can be negotiated to a lesser offense so it appears more innocuous on background checks.
Aside from the criminal aspect to a charge of retail theft there is a possibility of civil damages as well. Oftentimes a major retailer will contract with law firms to seek out persons charged with the offense and seek civil reparation. Demand letters from law firms in both NY and FL are commonly received a short time after the charges are filed. The amounts sought are typically $250.00 or $500.00. The client should not pay the amounts. There has been zero civil claims filed against any of my firm's clients in over 20 years of practice. Some clients pay the fee prior to retaining us. The reality of the civil claims is that it is too cost prohibitive for the retailers to pursue such claims.
When making your decision for a legal representative you should seek a very experienced candidate for your attorney. Ask quesions such as how many cases similar to yours they have represented persons on. Ask whether alternative dispositions are available. Most of the time the client will not have to appear in court and many times the attorney can appear for all the settings without the necessity of the client. This varies from court to court.