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Supreme Court Affirms Felony Charges for Shoplifters

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Shoplifters in Illinois may be classed as burglars, according to a ruling handed down Aug. 1st by the state’s Supreme Court. In upholding the conviction of a man who stole $70 worth of children’s clothing from a Rock Falls Walmart, the high court said that prosecutors who can demonstrate intent may seek tougher sentences in retail theft cases. Burglary is a felony offense in Illinois and sentencing guidelines call both for jail time and fines.

A divided court overruled appellate judges in the state’s 3rd District, who in January of last year said that a 2014 burglary conviction should be struck down on statutory grounds. State law permits public entry in buildings subject to the authority granted them by their owners but considers as criminal those who violate the limits of that authority. Reform of the Retail Theft Act, which the lower court cited in reversing the conviction, is proceeding in the Illinois legislature.

Darren Johnston, who twice entered the store and emerged with stolen goods, became a burglar when he violated  the limited authority doctrine as outlined under the more stringent Burglary statute. The 5-2 decision is in keeping with rulings in the 2nd and 4th districts, which have affirmed the use of burglary charges in shoplifting cases. Dissenting judges sided with their counterparts in the 3rd District, who cited the value of the goods as below the $300 threshold necessary for more than misdemenaor charges.