The Crime of Looting in Chicago

Recently, I spoke to a person who had recently been charged with a theft arising out of the recent Black Lives Matter demonstrations in the Chicago area. Despite the city’s nonviolent protests, he was part of a group that unfortunately took the opportunity to loot businesses, rather than engage in peaceful protest. What happened in his particular circumstance was that he never entered the business establishments though. Instead, he stood outside vandalized businesses and asked others to get him some merchandise while they were inside looting. So, let no one ever tell you that Chicagoans are not friendly people (assuming that they were truly from Chicago) because surprisingly, a great many looters actually helped him with his criminal shopping and delivered stolen merchandise to him when exiting! --Sort of like a Doordash for thieves. Amazing!

When this particular defendant called, he was surprised that he had been arrested by the Chicago Police however, because he had never actually gone into the business itself and believed that he could not be found guilty based upon that fact. So, let’s first discuss whether that is a valid legal point or not.

You Don’t Need to Enter a Property to be Guilty of a Property Crime

On TV they call it being an accessory to a crime. In Illinois, it’s called accountability. What it basically means is that whether you are the actual person that committed the offense or not, you’re still responsible for the crime if you took part in it in some way, no matter how minor. So, the person who drives the get-away car to the bank robbery is accountable for the robbery (and is also even accountable for a shooting that occurs during commission of the crime, even if he didn’t know the other person was going to bring a gun). Even the person that took the get-away car for a car wash and filled up the tires before the robbery might be accountable for the robbery, assuming he knew he was helping the commission of a crime in some way.

What is Looting?

In Illinois, there is a specific crime that is called “looting by individuals” and it’s a Class 4 felony that is punishable by up to three years in the penitentiary and in addition to any other penalties that the judge may give, requires that the defendant be assessed at least 100 hours of community service and be require to pay restitution to the victim for the damage that they caused. It occurs whenever a person goes onto the property of another person or business, and:

  • The normal security that would prevent someone from entering is no longer there because of a fire, hurricane, act of nature, or because it has been damaged by a riot or mob, and
  • That person takes or exerts controls of the property of another

Although this statute that applies to looters in Chicago specifically states that the defendant must “enter” the property of another, a person (such as our recent caller who did not physically enter the looted store) would likely still be held responsible until this law if he took part in the crime under the theory of accountability as described previously above.

What Other Crimes Might Chicago Looters be Charged With?

But just because there’s a specific criminal law called “looting” doesn’t mean that that the Chicago Police must charge each person with this specific offense, even if he or she was arrested after going into a damaged business and taking items without paying. Some common other crimes that might be charged include:

  • Burglary – This crime occurs whenever a person enters into or onto another’s property with the intention of committing a burglary or a theft. If the entry is to a car, boat or railroad car, it’s a Class 3 felony if no damage was caused to the property, but a Class 2 felony is there is damage in fact. When the property is a place of worship, school or daycare center though, it’s a Class 1 felony. It’s not even necessary that the defendant actually commit a theft or a felony while there. It’s only necessary that the person intended to do so while there. In other words, just because a looter doesn’t take anything after entering a business (maybe all the “good stuff” had already been taken and all that was left were broken items) doesn’t mean that they didn’t take part in a burglary. Just like they always say at a birthday party after someone gives a gift of an ugly sweater, “It’s the thought that counts”.
  • Theft – A person who takes any item of value from another person or another’s property can always be charged with theft as well. When the object or merchandise is below $500 in value, the law in Illinois provides that the offense is a misdemeanor, whereas for items over $500, the accused may be charged with a felony offense.
  • Criminal Damage – If in the process of entering the store or business, the defendant damages the property, he or she may also be charged with Criminal Damage to Property. For these purposes, it doesn’t matter whether the building was already severely damaged or even on fire; if the person causes additional damage (no matter how small), he or she may also be arrested for this offense.

Consult our Experienced Legal Team Today

If you or someone you know has been arrested, detained or charged with a crime relating to recent demonstrations or looting that occurred in Chicago, you can contact our 24 hour hotline any time of day. Since 1990, has been helping people in Cook, Lake, Kane, DuPage, Will and other nearby counties out of tough situations. We can be reached at (312) 644-0444.