Articles Posted in Theft

chris-lawton-357168-copy-300x200For purposes of the law in Chicago, vehicular hijacking covers a range of vehicles, including boats. The key issues that arise when facing such a charge can be understood by looking at the example of a rather hapless Chicago teen who stole an SUV belonging to the FBI. There were several criminal matters arising out of that act that would all be considered during the trial.

First of all, the teenager was on probation and already had an extensive criminal record. The probation violations were dealt with as a separate issue but also one that could aggravate the crime despite the fact that the perpetrator  was a minor. His lawyers inevitably wanted to minimize evidence of his past crimes as much as allowable under the current law.

Compounding and Relevant Factors

esther-tuttle-280714-copy-300x200There are instances in which the crime of being in possession of a stolen motor vehicle is a carrier or access crime. You need a team of competent lawyers in order to avoid upgrading the charges unnecessarily. The car being the instrument for committing the crime or getting away from the crime, it is often a minor charge when compared with the principal charge of robbery or even homicide. The case of Jamie Thurnau and Jorge Chavez demonstrates the wide range of possible charges after the arrest. The actual charge sheet included the possession of a stolen car and also resisting arrest. Further charges of burglary, aggravated battery, and fleeing police were later added.

The fact that the offenders injured a law enforcement agent during the commission of the crime is an aggravating feature that will be considered by the court during the sentencing phase. A prior warrant of arrest was being executed when the pair drove off from a Walmart parking lot. The accumulation of charges brings into question the Mens Rea element of the criminal conduct. The acts of fleeing and even injuring the police may have occurred as described by the prosecutor, but it is an entirely different matter to prove that these acts were foreplanned with malice in mind. This is often the crux of the defense strategy. They may acknowledge the factual basis of the case but then dispute the motivations in order to throw doubt on the case.

Ranking Different Crimes that Occur at the Same Moment

clem-onojeghuo-173534-copy-300x205Shoplifting is classified under the theft statutes. The key provisions are contained in statutory instrument number 720 ILCS 5/16-1. It is at the lower end of the crimes of dishonesty but can still be prosecuted and lead to terms of imprisonment. Over the years, there have been many changes that were designed to reform the regime. For example, there are some new sophisticated techniques for shoplifting that may not have been covered by the original statutes in Chicago. That is why defense attorneys have to ensure that they are up to date with the latest versions of the law. This is one of the most prosecuted crimes not because of its seriousness but rather its frequency of occurrence. Shoplifting is an occupational hazard for marketplaces because there are always people who want to take things without paying for them.

Contrary to popular belief, this is not a crime that is consigned to the lower orders of society. Rather, it cuts across, and there have been instances of perfectly wealthy people who have been caught shoplifting. Sometimes, it is a case of temporary economic deprivation; other times, the defendant may be suffering from psychosocial problems such as kleptomania. It is imperative that the defense attorney explores all the possible explanations before the client is either found guilty or sentenced. The existence of a recognized condition might be a mitigating factor in such cases. It is also important to advise the client not to accept higher charges in order to avoid appearing in court because the resultant criminal record can become a hazard.

Protections for the Defendants

800px-Packaged_ElectronicsReceiving stolen property is one of the more elusive offenses on the Chicago statute books but it has been prosecuted vigorously on account of the fact that it is part of a network of criminality that must be broken from its source. The person that receives stolen property is not only benefitting from a crime but is also making it difficult for the law enforcement authorities to successfully recover the stolen property. Therefore, the criminal justice system has been harsh on defendants in these circumstances. Defense attorneys need to be wary of the prejudices that often plague these cases. The chain of custody before arriving at the final recipient can also cause unique challenges for the defense attorney.

Key Considerations as Part of the Defense Preparations

The strategy that is preferred is to focus on the other defendants so as to take the heat off the person who may not have done the robbery or theft but is indeed the final recipient of the goods or money. The problems start to mount when it is a joint enterprise or conspiracy. In such situations the defendant may have to fight off a presumption that he or she is the mastermind whereas the actual thieves are only footmen and women for the grand scheme. Needless to say defendants who the prosecution successfully labels as being criminal masterminds can expect unusually stiff penalties, even when the discretions of the sentencing guidelines are taken into consideration. Luckily for the vast majority of defense attorneys, the cases are usually on the low end. The person that engaged in the actual stealing action (particularly if it is upgraded to robbery) will bear the brunt of the court’s wrath.

DSC04156-BThe state and definition of counterfeiting laws will tell you a lot about the community in which they are designed and implemented. Illinois is no exception. The state has a set of complex and situational rules relating to counterfeiting and forgery; a true Pandora’s Box for a diligent attorney. For the most part, the law seems to target those who create forged money, but there are many other forms of falsification that are captured by the legislation. A person is guilty of a crime in Illinois when he or she creates or uses written documents that have been falsified or altered in significant ways. In this case the constituent ingredients of the crime can encompass both the making of forged/altered documents as well as possessing them with the intention of using them for illegal purposes.

A Counterfeiting Law for the New Age

As criminals in this area have become more sophisticated in their modus operandi, the law has been forced to play catch-up. For example it recognized the use of false documents for defrauding in which possession is disputed as well as the effects of subtle alteration using digital means (720 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/17-3). The classic case is that of a forged check that is successfully cashed by a third party because the signature on it appears to be authentic to the recipient bank regardless of whether or not the account holder actually gave permission for that cheque to be paid. The elderly and those with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to this type of fraud. As the case made it through the courts, it became a gradually-established norm that the instrument used to defraud must be credible to an ordinary reasonable person. Hence where the forgery is almost comical in its design and presentation, the user may be able to escape a criminal charge.

file000340814082Home invasions have been the fodder for criminal defense attorneys in Illinois for ages. Recently there has been a growing conversation around the response of the homeowner and whether he or she is legally protected. States like Florida have a stand-your-ground provision which has sometimes led to tragic consequences. To make matters worse, some of these incidents are alleged to involve an element of racial animus. One need only look back at the circus surrounding the George Zimmerman case to realize that self-defense is never as simple as it looks on paper when the laws are first drafted.

Burglaries are going to continue and defense lawyers are going to continue to use every trick in the book to get an acquittal or generous sentence for their clients. This article highlights some of the important considerations for the law as it stands but also the implications for defendants and homeowners.

A Law that is a Series of Compromises and Interests

On Wednesday, October 21, 2015, a man robbed an Irving Park neighborhood bank located on the Northwest side. According to witnesses, the man walked into the Wintrust Bank branch at 4343 N. Elston Ave. between 4:00 and 4:30 in the afternoon, gave the teller a note demanding cash, and then ran away with an unspecified amount of money, according to Chicago Police and the FBI. The suspect has not been caught at this time, but if he is caught, he will face serious federal charges and a lengthy prison sentence.

Bank Robbery Charges

If you are charged with bank robbery, it is always a federal offense. To be convicted of bank robbery, the assistant U.S. Attorney must be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person took or tried to take money or property from an institution that is federally insured. Even if you are arrested for allegedly stealing from an ATM, you will be charged with bank robbery.    

Embezzlement is a so-called “white collar crime” in Illinois, meaning it is the type of crime normally committed in a professional environment or workplace. Embezzlement is a type of theft that occurs when somebody who was entrusted to manage or monitor the property or money of another person steals all or part of what they were entrusted with for personal gain.

This is different from theft because in an embezzlement situation the defendant had legal access to the money or property that they are accused of stealing.

When is Embezzlement Usually Charged?

Two Chicago residents were arrested recently for allegedly committing retail theft at two different stores at Lincolnwood Town Center. But the value of the stolen goods may leave you wondering why police and prosecutors even bothered pressing charges.


Chicago Retail Theft

In the first incident, a man was charged with retail theft for allegedly hiding an $18 pair of socks and walking out of a Kohl’s department store without paying for them. In the second incident, which occurred on the same day but at Carson’s, a woman was arrested for allegedly concealing a pair of earrings worth $46 and walking out of the store with them.

You’re probably thinking: “Wait, the police were called for an $18 pair of socks? For a $46 pair of earrings? The amount of time and resources they spent taking statements, arresting and booking the suspect was probably five times the cost of the items these two people attempted to steal. Can they even get jail time for that?”

Despite the fact that yes, the expenditure in police, prosecutor and court time and resources to follow these two cases from arrest to jury trial far exceeds the value of the items stolen, both these defendants could be facing jail time if found guilty.

Retail theft in Illinois of any property valued at less than $150 is a Class A misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to a year in jail. A charge of retail theft isn’t dependent upon the suspect actually getting away from the store with the item. Once he exits the store with the unpaid merchandise, the crime has been committed, even if store security was watching and waiting for him to step outside before detaining him.

But why bother pressing charges against a person for $18? Taken as a single event, it seems ridiculous. But from the store’s perspective, these small, single events add up and take a toll on their bottom line, so many take a hardline and press charges on all attempted thefts, no matter how small. Many department stores even have signs posted in dressing rooms and other prominent places stating their intent to prosecute all incidents of retail theft, no matter how minimal the value of the stolen item.

From the prosecution’s standpoint, small crimes can add up. While a person may steal only an $18 pair of socks one day, over the course of several years the theft of small items quickly adds up. But that doesn’t mean if you are arrested with retail theft you are guaranteed time spent in jail. Prosecutors are overworked, underpaid and want to close the big cases – murder, robbery, sexual assault and other violent crimes – not spend precious time and resources going after sock stealers. If this is a first or second offense, chances are high that the charges may be dismissed, or we can negotiate no jail time in exchange for a guilty or no contest plea. Or we may be able to have the charges reduced to attempted theft, depending on the circumstances. With an experienced criminal defense attorney, it is often possible to get these crimes pled out with minimal to no jail time, or even outright dismissed.

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A Chicago man was charged with six counts of theft by deception for allegedly obtaining merchandise through telephone solicitations and then turning around and selling it for cash.

Defense of Chicago Theft by Deception


The article does not clarify the alleged deception, but one likely scenario (and the one we will assume for purposes of the discussion in this post) is that the defendant posed as an employee of a charitable organization and called homes and/or businesses soliciting donations. Upon being offered items of significant value, collected the items and turned around and sold them for cash.

Regardless of the details of how the alleged crime unfolded, theft requires that the defendant “knowingly” obtain control over another’s property by deception. So defense against the charge would focus on raising reasonable doubt as to whether the defendant’s actions were done with proper intent – whether he knew that he was obtaining control over another person’s property through the alleged deception. Factors that would need to be considered in determining whether the defendant had the requisite knowledge include:

  • Did the defendant make the phone calls soliciting the property;
  • If the defendant made the phone calls, was it at the direction of a third-party for what he believed was a legitimate, legal purpose, and;
  • If the defendant sold the property at the direction of a third-party, did he know it was obtained through deception.

If the defendant made the phone calls and sold the property under the direction of a third party, and was led to believe that the solicitation and sale of the property was for a legitimate purpose, then he did not knowingly obtain control over the property with the intent to deprive the owner of his control. Instead, he himself was under the false assumption that the solicitation was genuine and not for the purpose of illegally obtaining the victim’s property.

If, however, the evidence tends to show that the defendant did knowingly obtain the property through deception, then it would be to his advantage to negotiate a plea agreement with the prosecutor. The defendant was charged with six counts of theft ranging from $300 to $1,000 per instance. Assuming that five of the six charges were for $1,000, the maximum value of stolen property would be $5,300.

Going to trial for a string of thefts of such a small amount – and in cases where the victims willingly gave away their property, albeit under false pretenses – would be a waste of time and resources for both the prosecution and the court system to have a case this size go to trial. These types of cases are prime examples of how the skill and expertise of an experienced Chicago theft crimes attorney can mean the difference between a lengthy prison term – theft of less than $10,000 in property is a Class 3 felony, and conviction on each charge carries the possibility of between two and five years in prison – and a concurrent sentence or even probation. Continue reading