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Illinois Theft Law Explained

Updated on
September 1, 2020
Article written by
Attorney Kevin O'Flaherty

In this article, we will discuss Illinois theft and larceny law and answer the following questions:


  • What constitutes theft or larceny in Illinois?
  • What are the different charges and penalties under Illinois theft law?
  • What defenses can be made against theft charges in Illinois?


From a very early age, the great majority of us understand that stealing from others is bad. But many don’t understand the specifics of the law, the difference between theft and larceny, and the different levels of charges that can be levied against an individual for theft. Illinois criminal law defines theft as an offense directed towards another’s property. Under the law, the property can be anything of value to the other person, such as jewelry, pets, clothes, a hat, their wallet, etc. Property theft can also extend to less tangible things such as labor, electricity, and services. 


What Constitutes Theft Or Larceny In Illinois?


While we may think of theft as the simple act of taking another’s belongings, the courts have a more specific set of parameters when considering a charge of theft or larceny. A person commits theft of another’s property when he or she knowingly:


  • Obtains or exerts unauthorized control over the property of another;
  • Acts threateningly or uses deception to obtain control over the property of another;
  • Obtains control over property that the individual knows is stolen; or
  • Obtains control over the property in the presence of an undercover officer who explicitly stated the property was stolen.


Furthermore, a charge of theft suggests that the individual who stole the property was intending to permanently deprive the original owner of the property, or that he or she knowingly used, concealed, or abandoned the property in such a way that would likely lead to the owner’s permanent deprivation of the property.


Larceny is synonymous with theft in many states. While some states may refer to stealing someone else’s property as petty larceny, it’s equivalent is petty theft.


The value of the property is irrelevant to whether the offense is considered theft or not, but the value is relevant to the level of the convicted person’s sentence.


What Are The Different Charges And Penalties Under Illinois Theft Law?


Illinois criminal statutes classify theft based on two factors: 1) The fair market value of the item at the time it was stolen, and 2) circumstances surrounding the theft itself. The different level of theft charges in Illinois are as follows:


  • Class A misdemeanor: Theft of retail or other person’s property worth less than $500 in value is punishable by less than one year in prison and a fine of up to $2,500 plus restitution.
  • Class 4 felony: Theft of property worth less than $500 in a place of worship, school, or involving government property; or the crime was committed by a person with a previous conviction of theft, is punishable by 1-3 years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000.
  • Class 3 felony: Theft of property off of a physical person (think pickpocketing) up to $500 in value or theft of another’s property of value between $500 and $1000 is punishable by 2-5 years in prison and up to $25,000 in fines, plus restitution.
  • Class 3 felony: Theft of property valued between $10,000 and $100,000 is punishable by 3-7 years in prison and $25,000 in fines, plus restitution
  • Class 1 felony: Theft of property valued between $100,000 and $500,000 is punishable by 4-15 years in prison and $25,000 in fines, plus restitution.
  • Class X felony: Theft of property worth more than $1,000,000 is punishable by 6-30 years in prison, $25,000 in fines, plus restitution


The manner of the theft, such as a purse being stolen from a person as they are walking, if any coercion, intimidation, or violence was involved, the individual stolen from was elderly or disabled, or the item stolen was of a special category, can also have an impact on the degree of sentencing and punishment in a theft case.


What Defenses Can Be Made Against Theft Charges In Illinois?


Illinois theft law leaves the door open for a handful of potential defenses in a theft case. Some of the more common defenses include:


  • Intent to return. The defendant did not intend to permanently deprive the individual of the item stolen.
  • Mistake of fact. An example of “mistake of fact” in a theft case could be that the defendant thought she was allowed to take and keep an item based on something the plaintiff said or wrote or that she took property that she believes is rightfully hers.
  • Duress. The defendant was under extreme stress or put in a situation that made him or her that if they did not steal the property they might face imminent danger.
  • Coercion. The defendant stole an item because someone else coerced them into doing so either through intimidation, violence, trickery, etc.
  • Entrapment. Entrapment refers to the idea that the defendant stole the item due to the actions of another who convinced them to steal the item solely for the purpose of apprehending the defendant.
  • Insanity. The defendant was legally insane at the time of the theft.
  • Owner’s consent. The owner of the property actually told the defendant that he or she could steal the property without legal repercussions. 

Illinois Theft Law Explained
Author

Attorney Kevin O'Flaherty

Kevin O’Flaherty is a graduate of the University of Iowa and Chicago-Kent College of Law. He has experience in litigation, estate planning, bankruptcy, real estate, and comprehensive business representation.

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