A recent Illinois Supreme Court illustrates how prosecutors can overcharge crimes, resulting in harsh penalties for minor infractions, but that an experienced appellate attorney can have these charges reduced or even thrown out by challenging the interpretation of a statute.
People v. Bradford
The case in question People v. Bradford, in which a defendant was accused of stealing from a Walmart in Bloomington, Illinois. The defendant allegedly took two DVDs from the electronics section and returned them at the customer service for a gift card. He was accused of then taking a hat and shoes without paying for them and using the fraudulently obtained gift card to pay for the purchase of a friend who ran from the store when police arrived.
If that sounds like a pretty clear cut case of shoplifting to you, that’s because it is. Each day, hundreds of people are charged with misdemeanors for similar crimes. In Illinois, such crimes are defined as retail theft, and punishable by up to a year in prison, but usually just result in probation. However, in this case, prosecutors sought to charge the defendant with burglary, a felony that he was ultimately convicted of.
Under 720 ILCS 5/19-1, burglary is defined as “when without authority he or she knowingly enters or without authority remains within a building… with intent to commit therein a felony or theft.” The classic example of a burglary is of course someone breaking into a home or building at night when no one is around to steal cash or valuables.
But in this case, prosecutors attempted to extend the meaning of burglary to argue that the defendant was within the Walmart “without authority” once he improperly obtained the gift card from the store. They argued that anything he took after this, such as the shoes and hats, amounted to a burglary. Both the trial court and the appellate court sided with the state.
The problem with this argument was that the state could never pinpoint exactly when the defendant lost his authority to be in the store. No employee approached the defendant until after he attempted to take the items of clothing. He was only within the store during business hours. He was never accused of entering the store when it closed or accessing a part of it that wasn’t normally open to the public.
The Illinois Supreme Court saw that this argument made no sense as it would then become impossible to distinguish a burglary from a retail theft, two crimes that the legislature has clearly intended to be charged separately. The defendant’s conviction was reversed, and if he faces additional charges related to the incident, they will be much less serious than burglary.
Contact a Chicago Criminal Appeals Lawyer
Prosecutors make mistakes, and sometimes those mistakes mean that defendants face lengthy punishments that are unnecessary and unfair. An appellate attorney can review your case and determine whether you have grounds to have your criminal conviction reversed. For more information, contact Barney & Hourihane today for a consultation.