Fighting an Illinois Theft Charge
Theft crime is a group of crimes encompassing everything from shoplifting to burglary to embezzlement. All of the criminal acts under this term are centered on taking something that doesn’t belong to you.
Under Illinois criminal statutes, theft occurs when an individual
- takes unauthorized control over property of another
- obtains control over property of another by threat or deception
- obtains stolen property – either knowing the property is stolen, or under circumstances that should lead to a reasonable belief that the property was stolen
Theft crimes are taken very seriously, and the criminal and civil penalties can add up to many times the value of the item stolen.
Types of Illinois Theft Charges
In general, criminal charges are classified according to the value of the item taken. The circumstances surrounding the alleged crime may also factor into your charges. Here are some of the more common theft charges you might face in Illinois.
Class A Misdemeanor Theft in Illinois (Petty Theft). When the property stolen is valued at $500 or less, theft is considered a Class A misdemeanor. This is commonly referred to as petty theft. If the property is taken off the person of the victim, however, the charge is upgraded.
If the item was stolen from a retailer (shoplifting), the item or items stolen must be valued at less than $300 to be considered a misdemeanor.
Class 4 Felony Theft. A petty theft becomes a felony if the items are stolen from a school or place of worship, or if the theft was of government property.
You can also get a Class 4 felony charge if you have a previous conviction for a theft-related offense on your record.
Class 3 Felony Theft. When the value of the stolen item or items is between $500 and $10,000 (or more than $300 from a retail store), the theft is charged as a Class 3 felony.
If the stolen property was taken from the person of the victim—even if is valued at less than $500, it is also considered a Class 3 felony
Class 2 Felony Theft. Theft is a Class 2 felony if the property is valued at $10,000 to $100,000.
It may also be a Class 2 felony charge if the property value is more than $500, and taken from the person of the victim, or if the property is between $500 and $10,000 in value and the theft was committed in a school, a place of worship, or if the property belonged to the government.
There are other circumstances that could result in heavier charges. Click here to read a full description of Illinois Theft Laws.
Defenses against Theft Charges
The best defense for your situation will be unique to you. Thus, you should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney, who can counsel you on the most effective strategy for your circumstances.
Assuming that the crime did occur, here are some common defenses to a theft charge:
Claim of Right or Ownership of Property. One potential defense is that you believed in good faith that the property you took was yours, or thought for one reason or another that you had a right to take it.
This can be a difficult defense to execute successfully. You will have to provide some evidence that you had reason to believe that you had some claim over the property. Simply claiming “I thought it belonged to me” would not work.
Intoxication. Claiming that you were intoxicated at the time of the crime isn’t enough for a valid defense. However, if you were so intoxicated—whether on drugs or alcohol—that you weren’t capable of the necessary intent, this is a potential defense against your charge. An example of this might be if you were so drunk at the time of the crime that you didn’t realize the item you were taking wasn’t yours.
Entrapment. Entrapment occurs when one individual coerces another into committing a crime the accused would not have committed otherwise, for the sake of prosecution.
An entrapment defense might be used if someone convinced you or gave you the idea to steal something that you wouldn’t have stolen under other circumstances. Remember, though, you must also prove that person had the intention of getting you arrested and prosecuted.
Is Returning the Property a Valid Defense?
Generally, returning the property that you stole is not a valid defense against a theft charge. It may paint you in a better light to the prosecution, however.
If you can demonstrate that you intended to return the property at the time of the alleged theft, however, that may prove an effective defense.
Only an experienced criminal defense lawyer can help you craft the best defense for your particular charges and situation. The sooner you start working with a professional, the more likely you are to have a positive outcome.
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.