When charged with auto theft in Illinois, you may find yourself facing felony-level penalties — up to 15 years imprisonment and fines capping at $100,000.
Unless you’re okay with more than a decade behind bars and fines that amount to financial ruin, it’s imperative you take any auto theft charge you face very seriously.
Your first step is to educate yourself about the laws surrounding auto theft in Illinois, and potential defenses against these charges. Then, find an attorney who can help you build the right defense for your case.
In this post, we’ve provided a basic guide for what to do when charged with Illinois auto theft.
First, Find an Illinois Attorney with Auto Theft Experience
Auto theft is one of the most common property crimes in Illinois. Much like other types of property crime, there must be both action and intent. Professional legal consultation will allow you to better understand the law and how your situation fits.
In order to secure an auto theft conviction against you, prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you:
- Committed theft by exercising unauthorized control, using deception to gain control, or obtaining control of an auto you knew was stolen, and
- Intended to permanently deprive the owner of the auto
If the prosecution is unable to prove these two things, the charges will either be dropped or reduced to a lesser charge. Joyriding is a good example.
Next, Build Your Defense against Illinois Auto Theft Charges
Defenses for auto theft focus on disproving one or both of the above elements. The right strategy will depend on the specifics of your case.
When you meet with your lawyer, you’ll have the opportunity to share every detail and circumstance surrounding your situation. Remember, client-attorney privilege allows you to be completely honest about what’s going on.
Once a timeline has been established and the details filled in, you and your Chicago defense attorney will be able to begin building the best possible defense.
In the meantime, we detail commonly applied approaches and the contexts under which they may be used.
Lack of Evidence
The prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the theft in question. Circumstantial evidence is not sufficient for a conviction.
If your attorney feels that the evidence against you doesn’t conclusively prove that you committed this act, he or she may employ the lack of evidence defense.
Claim of Right or Ownership of Property
If you’re able to establish that you had a good faith belief that the auto in question was yours, or that you had the authorization to use it, you may have an affirmative defense.
Typically, defendants are able to provide evidence supporting a good faith belief — a bill of sale or promissory note if claiming the car is theirs, or even something as brief as a text message granting permission can serve as proven authorization to use the vehicle.
Lack of Intent to Permanently Deprive the Owner of the Car
Additionally, it may be possible to prove that you did not intend to keep the auto, thus striking the element of intent to permanently deprive the owner of it.
Say you left the car parked in plain sight to be easily found and returned to its owner (instead of submerged in a pond, for example). A possible argument exists for lack of intention of actual theft.
Similarly, returning the car to its owner is conclusive evidence you never intended to permanently take it. The incident could instead be joyriding, or criminal trespass to vehicles.
The entrapment defense applies when you did commit auto theft, but were induced to do so by a third party specifically so that you would be prosecuted. They compelled you to commit a crime you wouldn’t otherwise commit.
In any case, facing auto theft charges can mean playing with your life. If there’s no other lesson you take with you, it is that fighting back is a must. That and a skilled Chicago auto theft attorney will be able to determine the best possible course of action for your case.
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.