Chicago Theft Lawyer
Theft is a serious crime involving the possibility of crippling fines and significant jail time. Even if you get convicted of the least serious category of theft, that conviction will be public information that will severely degrade your reputation and future employment prospects. With your freedom, finances, and reputation in jeopardy, you should do everything you can to fight your theft charges. No matter how helpless you may think your case is, do not plead guilty before consulting with an experienced Chicago theft & fraud lawyer.
How Is theft Defined Under Illinois Law?
The Illinois theft statute (720 ILCS 5/16-1) defines theft as knowingly:
- Obtaining or exercising unauthorized control over some else’s property
- Obtaining control over the property of another through deception
- Gaining control over another person’s property by threat
- Possessing property with the knowledge that it has been stolen, or under circumstances that make such knowledge likely
Essentially, the key facts that a prosecutor must prove to convict you for theft is that:
- The property belonged to someone else
- You knowingly or maliciously interfered with the owner’s property rights
What Are The Penalties for Theft in Illinois?
If you get convicted of theft, the sentence you will receive depends on two factors, namely:
- How you purportedly took the property
- The value of the property
When you allegedly stole money or valuables from the owner’s person, such as by pickpocketing, the penalties are the following:
- Less than $500–Class 3 felony, punishable by 2 to 5 years in prison and fines reaching $25,000
- Less than $500 taken at a school, church, or government property–Class 2 felony involving a sentence of 3 to 7 years in prison and possible fines of up to $25,000
When the evidence shows that you did not take property off of the owner’s person, the penalties are as follows:
- Property worth less than $500–Class A misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of 1 year in jail and $2,500 in fines
- Property worth less than $500 taken from a school, place of worship, or government property–Class 4 felony involving a penalty of 1 to 3 years in prison and fines of up to $25,000
- Property worth less than $500, and you have a prior conviction for theft, burglary, or robbery–Class 4 felony
- Property worth between $500 and $10,000–Class 3 felony
- Property worth between $500 and $10,000 taken from a school, place of worship, or government property–Class 2 felony
- Property valued between $10,000 and $100,000–Class 2 Felony
- Property worth between $10,000 and $100,000 taken from a school, place of worship, or government property–Class 1 felony, which means you could face 4 to 15 years imprisonment and fines reaching $25,000
- Property valued between $100,000 and $500,000–Class 1 felony
- Property valued over $100,000 taken from a school, place of worship of government entity–Class X felony punishable by 6 to 30 years in prison along with possible fines of up to $25,000
- Property valued between $500,000 and $1,000,000–Class 1 felony without the possibility of probation
- Property worth over $1,000,000–Class X Felony
When your alleged theft involves deception, such as collecting rent money from tenants when you are not the landlord, the penalties are as follows:
- More than $5,000 from a person 60 years or older–Class 2 felony
- Less than $500 obtained from a tenant by pretending to be a landlord–Class 3 felony
- Between $500 and $10,000 obtained by posing as a landlord–Class 2 felony
- Between $10,000 and $100,000 obtained by pretending to be a landlord–Class 1 felony
- Over $100,000 obtained by pretending to be a landlord–Class X felony
The prosecutor must prove the value of the property you allegedly stole beyond a reasonable doubt. Under Illinois law, property may include:
- Written instruments, such as deeds, stock certificates, and bonds
- Anything else that has value to its owner
Since your sentence depends on the value of the property, this will be a central aspect of your case.
How A Chicago Theft Lawyer Can Help
First of all, you cannot defend against theft charges by claiming that you had an ownership right to the property if the alleged victim also had a right to ownership of that property. This sort of issue comes up when estranged family members or business partners have joint ownership of property such as vehicles, merchandise, or tools. When the ownership of property is in question, the legal course of action is to seek a court settlement, not to take the law into your own hands and take the property yourself.
That being said, you can defeat your theft charges if you can demonstrate that you had a legitimate property right in the thing that you allegedly stole, and that your right was either exclusive or did not interfere with the legitimate ownership right of the alleged victim. Usually, theft cases do not involve such complex questions of conflicting ownership rights.
The best way to defend most theft cases is to show that the prosecutor failed to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt with respect to the following elements:
- Whether you actually took the property–If the evidence does not show beyond a reasonable doubt that you were the person who took the property, you cannot be held accountable. For example, the prosecutor may attempt to use grainy surveillance footage or a vague description provided by a bystander to identify you as the culprit. A good defense attorney will highlight to the jury that such evidence is far from conclusive.
- Your knowledge or criminal intent–If you were unaware that you were taking someone else’s property, or if you had no intent to seal, you cannot be guilty of theft. For example, if your lawyer can show that you reasonably believed that the owner had given you permission to borrow the property that you allegedly stole, you will probably be acquitted.
- The value of the property–If your lawyer can show that the property is worth less than what the prosecutor claims, you may face significantly reduced charges. For example, if the prosecutor’s evidence doesn’t demonstrate that the property you took was worth more than $500, you may receive a misdemeanor conviction as opposed to a more serious felony conviction.
Every theft case is different, and some involve factually complex scenarios. A skilled Chicago criminal defense attorney will closely review all of the available the evidence to determine what defense strategies may be available to you. If you have been charged with theft, call O’Meara Law LLC today at 312-909-0706 for a free and confidential consultation of your case.