As time passes, it can become more and more difficult to provide clear, definitive evidence that a crime did or didn’t happen. Because of this, Illinois has created a statute of limitations for most criminal offenses – including theft. After a preset amount of time, you are no longer legally able to be charged with a crime.
Today, we’re going to share some general rules of thumb for the Illinois statutes of limitations in theft-related crimes, detail several specific statutes, and cover a few contributing factors for specific cases. Every person’s situation is unique, however, and the best way to understand what’s possible for you is to have an experienced Chicago theft lawyer review your case.
Theft Offenses in Illinois: General Rules of Thumb
The period for a statute of limitations typically begins the moment an alleged crime has been completed. For crimes spanning days, weeks, or longer – a criminal conspiracy, for instance – the clock would not start ticking until the last “overt act“ has been completed.
In our state, the statute of limitations depends on the severity of the crime (Statute 720 ILCS 5/16-1). As a general rule of thumb, misdemeanors typically have a statute of limitations of 18 months, while felonies can be prosecuted up to three years after the criminal act occurs.
Of course, some crimes don’t have statutes of limitations at all. In cases where no statute of limitations exists, the government can charge someone with the offense no matter how long ago it allegedly happened.
However, unless you are facing more severe charges than those associated with theft-related crimes, chances are there is a concrete statute of limitations for your case. For many theft crimes, the “rule of thumb” applies. Some do not adhere to this, though, so below we’re going to dive into specifics based on the charge you’re facing.
How the Statute of Limitations Applies to Specific Illinois Theft Crimes
Theft – In most cases, if the value of stolen property does not exceed $500, theft is considered “petty theft” and the crime will likely be classified as a misdemeanor. If the stolen property values more than $500 total, you may face felony charges.
Specifically, Illinois law outlines the statute of limitations will be 18 months, three years, or seven years depending on the exact value of property stolen, as well as other circumstances surrounding the crime.
Receiving Stolen Property – If you have been accused of possessing stolen property, not the actual theft, you will still be subject to the same statute of limitations as a theft charge.
Should the total value of stolen property not exceed $500, you will be charged with a misdemeanor, and any charges must be brought against you within 18 months or three years – depending on the exact value of property received.
Burglary – Burglary is always classified as a felony in Illinois, and charges must be brought against anyone accused of committing the act within three years in order to meet the statute of limitations.
Robbery – Our state always classifies robbery as a felony as well. In many cases, charges must be brought within three years. However, there may not be a time limit when the dollar value of the property stolen reaches into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Other Contributing Factors to the Length of an Illinois Theft Crime’s Statute of Limitations
There are plenty of additional contributing factors that can affect how the court interprets the end date of the limitations period. They can even deem parts of statutes of limitations unenforceable.
For instance, were you aware that a statute of limitations may “toll,” or pause? One example of such a case is if a crime is committed and then the suspect immediately goes into hiding for two years. Because he or she could not be found to face prosecution, the court may grant an additional two years to the statute of limitations.
Another scenario is when more than a single theft charge is brought against a person committing a single act. Or if it is determined that a crime can be classified as having occurred in more than one jurisdiction. When this happens, the statute of limitations may expire for one crime, but still leave a defendant open to prosecution for another criminal act – or for the same crime in a separate jurisdiction.
Even your right to a speedy trial can greatly affect a standard statute of limitations for a given crime.
If and when you are facing theft charges, it is very important that you understand how statutes of limitations apply to your specific theft-related crime, and what impact the circumstances surrounding your case may have on the standard time limits for bringing charges against you. It may mean the difference between continuing to live your normal life and spending time and money being processed through the Illinois court system and facing the prospect of being incarcerated.
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.