Illinois Legislature Mulls Changes to Theft Statute

State Rep. Elgie Sims, Jr. (D-Chicago) just introduced House Bill 3337, which would raise the felony theft threshold from $500 to $2,000.

This proposal stems from a push by the Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform to reduce the state’s prison population by 25% before 2025. Proponents of H.B. 3337 and similar judicial reform measures often point to a series of grim statistics:

  • The prison system costs $1.4 billion a year (this figure does not include payroll),
  • Almost half of released offenders are arrested again within eight years, and
  • Such recidivism costs an additional $120,000 per person.

Opponents, such as Quincy Menards Assistant General Manager Scott Warner, predicted that changing the threshold would create more crime. A 2011 Pew Charitable Trusts survey concluded that increasing the dollar limit for felony theft had almost no effect on the overall property crime rate.

Theft Crimes in Illinois

Theft is a serious crime in Illinois. Most first-time offenders will be charged with a Class A misdemeanor, which is one step away from a felony and on par with most DUI and battery offenses. There are basically two criteria under the theft law that determine the seriousness of the offense:

  • Property Value: Theft of any property (including cash) under $500 is a Class A misdemeanor; theft up to $10,000 is a Class 3 felony, and the punishments go up from there.
  • Owner Status: If the property owner was an individual as opposed to a company, the penalties are nearly always more severe. The penalties are also higher if the victim was a church or a school.

A prior conviction is also an aggravating factor. Class A misdemeanors are punishable by a maximum one year in jail, and a Class 3 felony means a maximum two to five years in prison.

Legally, theft usually means exercising unauthorized control over property. That could mean physically taking it, denying another person’s superior right to possession, altering a price tag, keeping rented property too long past the return date, and other similar conduct. It is also a crime to knowingly possess stolen property.

Theft Defenses

If the prosecutor alleges theft by deception, the state must prove that the defendant was objectively deceptive. In other words, the prosecutor must normally prove that whatever the defendant allegedly did would have been sufficient to dupe someone else. There may also be questions about the owner’s consent. If there is even a reasonable doubt as to consent, the defendant is not guilty.

Lack of evidence is often the best defense in criminal cases, and in many theft matters, there is no evidence as to ownership. The prosecutor must produce the item’s owner in court, and many times, the owner has moved out of the jurisdiction and/or lost interest in the case by the time the trial rolls around. The law surrounding theft in Illinois is complex, but as we note here, there are a number of defenses available to a defendant. A criminal defense attorney will be invaluable to anyone accused of theft in Illinois.

Contact Experienced Attorneys

Theft cases are serious crimes that are sometimes difficult to prove. For a confidential consultation with an experienced criminal law attorney in Schaumburg, contact Glasgow & Olsson. Home and jail visits are available.

(image courtesyof Didier Weemaels)

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