Property Crimes Attorneys in Chicago

Have you been accused of criminal damage to property and criminal trespass? Our experienced defense lawyers at Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC can provide you skilled representation for your case.

The 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects our privacy and our homes from unwanted government intrusions. But what about from private individuals? How does our government protect its citizens’ rights to privacy on their land from unwanted invasions by other people?

Chicago Property Crimes Attorneys

In Illinois, there are laws that punish those that interfere with our property rights as criminal offenders. Two of those areas of law may be referred to generally as criminal damage and criminal trespass.

Table Of Contents

    Criminal Damage to Property Penalties

    Generally, one commits criminal damage to property when one knowingly and without lawful authority damages the property of another by any means.

    When the damage is less than $500 in value, it is usually punishable as a Class A misdemeanor (up to 364 days in jail, and/or a fine up to $2,500) unless it occurs at a protected place, such as a school, place of worship, police/fire fighter/veteran’s memorial (like the one in Chicago, next to Soldier’s Field), or farming equipment; in which case it becomes a Class 4 felony ( which is punishable by one to three years in prison).

    Penalties in Chicago and across Illinois for criminal damage may range all the way up to a Class 1 felony, punishable by a prison term of 4 to 15 years, depending upon the nature of the property being damaged and the extent of the damages. A conviction for criminal damage to property, except where incarceration is ordered, carries a mandatory period of community service of no less than 30 hours and not more than 120 hours.

    In cases where the damages exceed $10,000, there is a mandatory fine equal to the amount of damage to the property (so think twice before you “key” that Lamborghini that parked too close to your car in the busy mall lot).

    In cases where the farm crops of another were destroyed, in addition to any criminal penalty, the victim has a right to file a civil action.

    Types of Criminal Damage to Property

    It is a violation of the criminal damage to property laws to cause damage recklessly by the use of fire or explosive materials, to knowingly start a fire on the land of another, to use a stink bomb that is intended to interfere with the use of a building, or to damage property with the intent to defraud an insurer. The penalties for each of these acts follow the same guidelines as above.

    It is against the law to knowingly injure a domestic animal without the consent of the owner. To do so is a Class 4 felony when the value of the damages does not exceed $10,000. It is also a Class 4 felony to shoot a firearm at a railroad train.

    As for the long-time Chicago summertime tradition of opening up fire hydrants in the neighborhoods for kids (of all ages) to “beat the heat” - when someone does this without proper permission, it is a Class B misdemeanor. It is likewise a Class B misdemeanor to knowingly, and without authorization, tamper with or damage in any way any hydrant, fire hose, or other apparatus of firefighting equipment. Although not as serious as all of the other penalties for criminal damage, a Class B misdemeanor may still result in a criminal record with the Illinois state police, as well as the FBI.

    Damage to Government Property

    As one might expect, our government provides itself with greater protection than the protection we get as private individuals. When one commits an act of criminal damage to “government-supported property,” which is any land or property either owned by or supported (even in part) by a governmental body, the penalties are as follows (based upon the dollar value damaged):

    1. Less than, or equal to $500: a Class 4 felony;
    2. Exceeds $500, but less than or equal to $10,000: a Class 3 felony;
    3. Exceeds $10,000, but less than or equal to $100,000: a Class 2 felony;
    4. Exceeds $100,000: a Class 1 felony.

    Of course, when the damages exceed $10,000, the same mandatory fine in the amount of the damages applies.

    Institutional Vandalism

    In the instances where an individual damages the property of another (or others) based upon their perceived race, creed, religion, etc., that is known as “institutional vandalism” and the law punishes this even more harshly.

    • If the damage is no greater than $500, it is a Class 3 felony;
    • When the damage is over $500, it is a Class 2 felony.

    There is also a mandatory fine up to $1,000 and/or restitution to the victim(s). Any sentence of probation or conditional discharge must have no less than 200 hours of public service as a condition of institutional vandalism.

    How is the Amount of Damage Determined?

    When a defendant has been charged with Criminal Damage to Property, it’s common for the accused to either challenge the amount of damage or to dispute that there was any damage at all. After all, the amount (or existence) of damage is very important in determining whether the criminal case should be charged as a misdemeanor vs felony, or whether it should be charged as a crime at all.

    For instance, what about when a person slams their hand on another person’s car hood during a dispute? The owner may allege that the car has been damaged, while the accused may say that it’s nothing more than a scratch and it’s basically nothing. A police officer will undoubtedly look at the car and try to determine whether the tiny imperfection was fresh or whether it had been there all along. If the officer cannot make a determination, the person may be charged with a crime and the decision left to a Judge to decide after hearing evidence, testimony and viewing photographs during a trial.

    In the same way, a Judge may need to make the final determination of whether damages in another case total $499 (and therefore constitute a misdemeanor) or whether the damages are $501 (and therefore constitute a felony).  Experts may need to testify at trial with differing opinions about how much it will cost to repair or replace the item. Sometimes,  a special hearing will need to be held just to come to this determination.

    Criminal Trespass

    In Chicago and elsewhere in Illinois, one does not have to actually cause damage to another’s property in order to be in violation of the law. The mere trespass onto the land or property of another is punishable with criminal sanctions.

    The severity of the penalty depends on the nature of the trespass. Some property is given greater protection against trespass than others. A trespass generally occurs when, without lawful authority or consent of the owner, one enters into/onto the land or personal property of another…

    • After having previously been given notice that such entry was forbidden, or
    • Under circumstances where one reasonably knows entry is forbidden, or
    • When one remains after being told to leave the premises.

    Types of Criminal Trespass and Penalties

    If one enters the vehicle of another without permission or lawful authority (and this includes any vehicle, watercraft, or snowmobile), it is a Class A misdemeanor. If one enters the real property (land) of another without authority, or remains after being told to leave, then that is a Class B misdemeanor, except where one trespasses on farmland with an all-terrain vehicle, dirt bike, etc., which are Class A misdemeanors.

    The penalties become more severe for areas given specific protection by statute.

    • If one commits trespass to State-supported land (owned by a governmental unit in whole, in part, or subsidized by State funds), that is a Class A misdemeanor.
    • Trespass to mass transit property (buses, trains, etc.), when done with the intent to destroy property or to delay service for at least 15 minutes or more, is a Class 4 felony if it is a second or subsequent offense.
    • If one enters into a secure area of an airport, it is a Class A misdemeanor or a Class 4 felony, depending upon how one gains entry, and into what area. If one does so while armed with a firearm or other deadly weapon, it is a Class 3 felony.
    • It is a Class 4 felony to trespass on the grounds of a nuclear facility.
    • It is also a Class 4 felony to trespass upon the grounds of any place of public amusement, which upon a finding of guilt carries a mandatory minimum $1,000 fine, as well as 30 to 120 hours of community service.
    • As for a private citizen’s residence, anyone caught trespassing in the home or dwelling of another person commits a Class A misdemeanor. If one does so knowing people are present at the time, that is a Class 4 felony as well.

    Speak to an Experienced Criminal Trespass & Criminal Damage Lawyer

    As you can see, charges of criminal damage to property as well as trespass are indeed serious in nature, with consequences that can reach far beyond the mere arrest and prosecution. Therefore, it is essential to remember that if you’re arrested and charged for any such offense, you should seek the immediate assistance of a Chicago criminal attorney.

    The Chicago criminal damage and trespass defense attorneys at Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC are highly knowledgeable and experienced trial lawyers that will dedicate themselves to obtaining the best result possible on your behalf. If you are facing such charges, you owe it to yourself to call us immediately at (312) 644-0444 to find out how we can help you. We have multiple office locations to serve you, including Chicago and Arlington Heights. Our phone lines are open 24 hours per day, seven days per week. So call now for your absolutely free, no-obligation, completely confidential consultation.

    Written by Mitchell S. Sexner Last Updated : December 21, 2023