The recent natural disasters in Texas and Florida have high costs attached to them. One of the highest costs is due to looting.
When Hurricane Harvey passed over Texas, looters allegedly broke into vacated homes and businesses to pilfer valuables. Fourteen individuals were charged with looting in the Houston area only days after the hurricane hit land. They will face additional charges for crimes committed during a crisis, according to a statement by the Harris County District Attorney.
After Hurricane Irma struck Florida, sixteen arrests were made in Palm Beach County on charges of looting. They ranged in age from 17 years old to 57 years old. Even though countywide curfews were imposed to deter looting, these individuals allegedly took opportunity in darkened and abandoned buildings to steal thousands of dollars in property.
One man allegedly stole over $12,000 in lottery tickets, cigarettes and cash from a store. Others allegedly broke into pawn shops, gas stations, gun stores, and private residences to steal purses, electronics, car keys and other valuables. One man was arrested for allegedly taking alcohol and cigars from a liquor store.
Natural disasters often create opportunities for theft, and if a natural disaster occurs in Illinois, the law is tougher on looters here than in most other states.
That’s because Illinois is one of a handful of states that actually has a looting law in the state books. This allows lawmakers to differentiate between normal theft and theft that occurs during states of emergency.
Read on to learn about recent looting cases and what the state law does to punish looters.
Instances of Looting in Illinois and What the Law Says
The state of Illinois is no stranger to cases of looting. In May 2015, a woman was attacked and ran into a Boystown convenience store for help. One hundred people were reported by a neighborhood website to have looted the store before the police arrived at the scene. A YouTube video of the incident got thousands of views.
When a tornado hit the central Illinois town of Washington in November 2013, one thousand homes were damaged and incidents of looting were reported in the town of 15,000 residents. One resident said a pickup truck stopped and individuals gathered a pile of his furniture and took off with it.
Looting is the offense of stealing during an officially declared state of emergency. A state of emergency can be due to man-made situations such as rioting, or it can be due to natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, earthquakes, or storms.
In most states, a theft crime is usually attached to a looting charge, but in Illinois looting is a stand-alone charge. Because this is the case, it’s wise to consult with a legal advisor if you or someone you know is facing a looting charge.
This is what the Illinois law against looting states:
“A person commits looting when he or she knowingly without authority of law or the owner enters any home or dwelling or upon any premises of another, or enters any commercial, mercantile, business, or industrial building, plant, or establishment, in which normal security of property is not present by virtue of a hurricane, fire, or vis major of any kind or by virtue of a riot, mob, or other human agency, and obtains or exerts control over property of the owner.”
Penalties Associated with Looting and What You Can Do
If an individual is convicted on a looting charge, the penalty is a Class 4 felony with a minimum of 100 hours of community service. The defendant must also make full restitution to the victim of looting for the stolen property.
In some cases, an individual may be falsely accused of looting. For example, you may be mistakenly arrested for looting if you had been given permission to be on a certain property and to take items from the property without the arresting officer’s knowledge.
Another example may be misidentification. The police may have confused you with the real offender. Stealing out of necessity may be another possible defense. It may be possible to use the defense of duress, if someone was threatening you with harm unless you agreed to engage in looting.
Since a felony charge can cause several long-lasting consequences, it’s essential for you to contact an experienced lawyer if you are facing looting charges. A qualified lawyer can help you with the details of your case and suggest possible defenses. Schedule a free initial consultation today to understand what kind of protection is available to you under Illinois law.
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.