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Aggressive. Experienced.

Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney
Former Cook County Felony Prosecutor

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Can IL Property Crimes Become Violent Crimes? What’s the Difference?

Property crimes are some of the most common criminal offenses in Chicago. Property crime convictions are also ones that carry serious criminal consequences.

That said, facing conviction of a violent crime – one which involves the use of force or threat of force against another – can result in a punishment longer lasting and far more severe. This is generally because these crimes are considered to present a threat to public safety.

Sometimes, the two overlap.

An offender may intend to commit a simple property crime like theft, but a mishap or change in circumstances can result in a more violent scenario.

For instance, someone might attempt to steal from or damage property thought to be vacant but encounters an occupant. Everyone’s surprised, the offender pulls a gun or knife, and suddenly a petty theft becomes something far more grave.

By law, a defendant in these circumstances may be convicted of a violent crime, even if it wasn’t their original intent.

Below, we compare various property and violent crimes, and the circumstances under which a simple property crime can suddenly become violent.

Defining Property Crime and Violent Crime in Illinois

Property crime is an offense committed against the victim’s property. This can include theft, vandalism, destruction and unlawful occupation of a property.

An important discernment, property crimes are characteristically non-violent. In fact, in most simple property crimes, the owner is not even present during the commission of the offense. On the other hand, as the title would suggest, violent crimes are, well…violent.

When an offender does use force or the threat of force to cause bodily injury to the victim or place the victim in reasonable fear of imminent bodily injury or death, the crime is classified as such. Examples include assault, robbery, carjacking, sexual assault, and homicide.

So what are the most common scenarios of intent to commit a simple property crime without harming anyone, but inadvertently encounter the property’s owner or occupant?

In those scenarios, how does the property crime become a violent one?

Illinois Shoplifting vs. Illinois Robbery

In shoplifting, the defendant takes merchandise with the intention to deprive the merchant of its full retail value. In robbery, the defendant takes property directly from a person, including a store employee, and uses force or the threat of force to do so.

In some cases, the defendant may intend to commit shoplifting, but end up using force or the threat of force to take the merchandise, which is considered robbery.

For example, with the intent to shoplift, Sally slips an extra tube of lipstick into her side pocket. On her way out the door, she is stopped by a security guard. When he tries to apprehend her, in an effort to escape, Sally pulls out a knife and threatens to harm him.

Now a simple shoplifting conviction, usually a misdemeanor punishable by probation, becomes armed robbery, a felony-level offense that almost always requires jail time.

Illinois Burglary vs. Illinois Robbery

Burglary is committed when the defendant enters a building or vehicle with the intention to commit theft or a felony-level offense.

As we discussed above, a robbery occurs when the defendant directly takes the property of another by force or threat of force.

Look at Barry. He thinks the home he is breaking into is vacant, intending to steal the occupants’ valuables. However, one of the occupants is home. Barry’s caught off guard and uses force or threat of force to subdue them.

Barry now faces robbery charges. Although both offenses are considered a felony, Barry is likely to face a much longer prison sentence now.

Illinois Grand Theft Auto vs. Illinois Carjacking

Auto theft is a common Chicago criminal offense and is usually a low-level felony. However, if the defendant takes a car directly from its owner or driver using force or the threat of force, this is considered carjacking, a violent offense that is a Class 1 Felony.

Take Carl. He’s in the mall parking lot, attempting to steal an unoccupied car. Let’s say the car’s owner approaches Carl while he’s attempting to hotwire the car.

Carl isn’t armed but tells the driver that he has a gun and will shoot, causing the driver to flee and call the police. Even though he didn’t use force, Carl used the threat of force, so now faces carjacking charges.

We realize these examples are simplified, while real-life situations can be far more complex. Even if the defendant intends only to commit a property crime, unexpected circumstances can cause panic, and “force” can seem at the time the only way to escape or avoid being caught.

In these cases, the defendant will face the criminal consequences of a violent crime, even though this was not his or her original intention.

If you are currently facing violent crime charges for an incident in which you never intended to be such, it may be wise to reach out to a Chicago criminal defense attorney to talk about your best course of action in limiting your consequences.


About the Author:

Andrew M. Weisberg is a former felony prosecutor who now serves as a defense attorney in the greater Chicago area. He has extensive experience in handling all types of criminal cases, from sex offenses and domestic violence to retail theft-related crimes, murder, and drug crimes.

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