The offense of theft under Illinois law is misunderstood. Many people think that because it is not a violent offense, and in some cases, it has no discernible victim, it is not a serious offense. This thinking is wrong. Theft can result in a jail sentence.
A person who is arrested for theft, assuming he has no prior offenses, will usually be charged with a Class A misdemeanor. Other crimes which are categorized as Class A misdemeanors include domestic battery, battery, possession of cannabis, and driving under the influence. All these crimes can be punished by up to one year in jail. The defendant can be fined $2500.
The theft statute is found in the criminal code at 720 ILCS 5/16-1. The statute provides that two factors determine how serious the crime is:
- Whether the property was taken from another’s person.
- The value of the property.
Where the property was taken from the person of another, or the property was valuable, the penalties for theft increase.
Although it prohibits taking property, the theft statute applies in all cases, including cases where the defendant is accused of taking money. In these instances, the property alleged to have been taken is US currency.
Theft is a Class A misdemeanor whenever the property stolen is not from another’s person and does not exceed $500 in value. However, where the offense occurs in a school or place of worship (church), this offense is a Class 4 felony.
And so, a first offense of theft is a misdemeanor. However, if the accused has previously been found guilty of any type of theft, including robbery, armed robbery, burglary, residential burglary, possession of burglary tools, home invasion, forgery, or any vehicle code offenses relating to the possession of a stolen motor vehicle, or unlawful use of a credit or debit card, then a first offense of theft is enhanced to a Class 4 felony. This felony has a sentencing range of 1 to 3 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections. The defendant can also receive probation.
Theft which is from another’s person but is $500 or less is a Class 3 felony. A Class 3 felony can result in a prison sentence of 2 to 5 years.
The next step above $500 is $10,000 in value. Theft of property valued at $10,000 or less which is not taken from another’s person is a Class 3 felony.
Theft of property which is $100,000 value or less is a Class 2 felony. The potential punishment for this crime is 3 to 7 years in the state penitentiary.
Theft of property which is $500,000 in value or less is a Class 1 felony (4-15 years prison).
Theft of $1,000,000 or less is a Class 1 felony but the trial court judge is prohibited from giving the offender probation. He or she must sentence the defendant to prison. This type of crime is called non-probationable.
A person charged with theft for a property that exceeds $1 million in value faces a Class X felony with a mandatory minimum 6 to 30 years prison.
The statute defines theft as the following:
A person commits theft when he or she knowingly obtains or exerts unauthorized control over property of the owner. A person is guilty of theft if he or she obtains such control by deception or threat. A person is also guilty of theft if he obtains control over stolen property knowing the property is stolen or under such circumstances as a reasonable person would believe that the property was stolen. See 720 ILCS 5/16-1(a)(1), (2), (3), and (4).
The value of the stolen property must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. This means that if the State fails to prove the value of the property, the defendant may be found guilty of a lesser offense, or acquitted.
It is not a defense to theft that the defendant has some ownership interest in the property, as long as the owner has an interest in some part of the property while the defendant does not.
While the penalties for theft are severe, these cases can be defended. In each case, the defendant is presumed innocent, as the prosecutor must prove the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.
Reasonable doubt may exist as to whether or not the control was really unauthorized. For example, if the owner consented, and the defendant is not guilty. But more precisely, if there is reasonable doubt as to whether the owner consented, then the presumption of innocence requires the fact finder to find the defendant not guilty.
Where the defendant is charged with theft by deception, the question remains whether the defendant really was deceptive.
Likewise, theft by threat is vague in the respect that some threats are legal while others are not. For instance, it is legal to threaten to file a lawsuit against someone.
Theft cases may lend themselves to jury trials because the question is the credibility of the owner. And there may be a question of whether the owner would ever come to court. The law does not allow the court to presume that the control is unauthorized. The only presumption that is permitted under the law is the presumption of the defendant’s innocence.