Anti-Domestic Violence advocates are concerned after Governor JB Pritzker signed the retail theft bill signed into law back in May.
The law punishes suspects who steal more than $300 worth of merchandise. This comes after a flock of thieves swarmed into Chicagoland shopping stores and snatched dozens of items. The trend of robberies has been named “Smash and Grabs”, where the thieves collect items in large portions to later sell for their own profit.
Vickie Smith, with the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence (ICADV), said some people who get caught stealing clothing are domestic violence victims who fear they could be hurt.
“Victims have mentioned how they could’ve been beaten or raped by their abuser if they didn’t go through with a crime,” said Smith, President of Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Smith explained how a victim’s abuser can either be a relationship partner or a person facilitating human trafficking. She’s also worried victims will have their situation ignored if they are charged.
“Prosecutors could charge a victim with this crime, which is an automatic felony instead of looking at the individual circumstances,” Smith said. “If prosecutors understood perhaps how victims were coerced into it, there could hopefully be lesser charges”
Smith has seen how domestic violence has been hard to prove in court as the reason for the theft. She says not all domestic violence involves a person being beaten. “All of it isn’t physical,” Smith explained.”You have to show a pattern of behavior that has intimidated a person into doing the crime they were charged for.”
Chicago Defender reached out to the office of Attorney General Kwame Raoul and this statement was provided on how legal officials should identify a domestic violence victim from an organized crime member:
“Attorney General Raoul initiated House Bill 1091 to differentiate the offense of organized retail crime from isolated incidents of retail theft. The goal has always been to go after the individuals orchestrating these crimes, not individuals who may commit retail theft because they are in desperate situations and may have been preyed upon by crime rings.
“In negotiating this legislation, the Attorney General listened to concerns raised by domestic violence advocates and made adjustments to the proposal on a few fronts. We attempted to address some of the advocates’ concerns to ensure that the new law applies only to those individuals who were the “masterminds” behind organized crime. The legislation that was signed into law does not apply to individuals who solely commit retail theft or resell the item for profit. It does apply to the individuals who knowingly recruited, organized, supervised, financed, or otherwise managed or directed the criminal acts. Those are the individuals who can be charged, convicted and sentenced for committing organized retail crime”
The Attorney General’s office added that it’s not involved in the sentencing process of suspects arrested and charged.