Criminal Damage to Property under Illinois is an extensive but complicated area of criminal charges. There are many acts and actions that could qualify as property damage, from burning down someone’s house to the ground, to merely making graffiti on walls that do not belong to you.
The charges a person faces, and the way the crime is classified, largely depends on the monetary damage you caused. Though if you were on the receiving end of such an act, you could argue for emotional damage and trauma caused too.
A good Illinois property damage lawyer can help you fight your case and hold the guilty party accountable in a court of law. Not only will you get compensated for the damage and losses you faced due to the vandalism, but also get the responsible party punished for intentionally causing someone harm.
Understanding Criminal Damage to Property
Section 1(1) Criminal Damage Act 1971 in Illinois states that a person who destroys or damages any property belonging to another is to be held guilty of an offense. It is not merely the damage that is done, which is criminal, but also putting something in harm’s way, even if the harm is not caused.
Criminal damage is also sometimes referred to as vandalism or criminal mischief. The terms, though different, imply the same thing. That someone’s property was defaced, destroyed, or damaged without their consent.
Such damage to other people’s property is taken very seriously by the law and can carry heavy fines and penalties. Destroying someone’s property deprives them of the object that they must have spent significant money on. Not only does the crime cause the victim financial damage, but also physical and emotional damage.
What Constitutes as Property Damage?
To define an offense as property damage, we must first clear up what property means in legal terms. Property is, simply, any material thing belonging to another. It could be your house, car, TV set, mobile phone, land, or even a pet. If the object is in your possession and is in your name, it classifies as your property. And nobody has a right to lay a finger on it without your consent.
Though damage and destruction are vague terms and can be caused in any way to the property of another, some of what constitutes as property damage are as follows:
Knowingly damage someone else’s property with malicious intent to harm them
Recklessly damage someone else’s property by fire or other explosives
Knowingly start a fire on someone else’s land
Knowingly injure a pet belonging to someone
Damage property to collect insurance
Examples of Property Damage
If someone rams their car into yours on purpose to cause you distress or harm, it is criminal property damage. If someone lights a fire in your backyard to burn your house down, it counts as criminal property damage. If someone traps your beloved dog and feeds it poisonous meat knowingly, it is criminal property damage. If someone smashes the windows of your house to intimidate you and cause you harm, it is criminal property damage.
No matter how small the damage or large, damaging anything that you own with malicious intent counts as criminal property damage. Of course, the punishment to the perpetrator will be somewhat according to the extent of the damage, but even if your property was saved from substantial harm, placing your property in harm’s way or setting the stage to cause significant damage would count towards the perpetrator’s punishment.
The Importance of Intent in Criminal Damage Charges
In all of the above cases, notice that the intention of the criminal is taken into account and given much weightage during court trials too. That is because the intention to harm in a property damage case is perhaps the most incriminating evidence. Malicious intent towards the victim is punishable, even if the end damage isn’t too substantial.
Thus saying, accidental property damage is not criminal. Though the person who caused the damage might still be liable to pay compensatory damages, the act will not warrant them to pay criminal fines and punitive damages. Simply because there was no ill intent involved, the entire nature of the offense changes.
If someone causes a fire in your house by mistake, they will not land in jail for it. But if they meant to do just that to cause you physical, emotional, or financial harm, they will be looking at a harsh sentence.
Classification of Property Damage
Criminal Damage to Property can be classified according to the severity of the damage caused. There are both misdemeanor and felony charges for property crimes. Here are some of the classifications and punishments for the crime.
Class A Misdemeanor
If the damage that is caused is valued at less than $300, the offense counts as a Class A misdemeanor. The punishment can include up to a year in jail, along with punitive fines of $25000.
Class B Misdemeanor
If the damage is done to fire hydrants, fire engines, or other fire-fighting equipment and is valued at $300, and this is your first offense, it would be counted as a Class B misdemeanor. Vandalism is also charged under the same umbrella. Graffiti, etchings, markings, and defacement of property are all considered Class B misdemeanors. They are punishable by up to 6 months in jail or with fines up to $1500.
Class 1 Felony
If the damage is done to a church, school, or a public building, and the damage is worth more than $100,000, then the act is classified as a Class 1 Felony and can earn you 4-15 years in jail, along with $25000 in punitive damages.
Class 2 Felony
The damage done to a school or a place of worship that is worth over $100,000 can also possibly be classified as a Class 2 felony, depending on the circumstances. If the circumstances favor the criminal, the class 2 felony only earns up to 7 years in prison, along with $25000 in fines.
Class 3 Felony
Class 3 felonies earn up to 2-5 years in prison and fines up to $25000. If the damage to the property is valued between $10,000 to $100,000, you will be charged with a Class 3 felony.
Class 4 Felony
If the damage caused is worth over $300, but less than $10,000, you can be charged with a class 4 felony, which can result in 1-3 years in jail and fines up to $25000.
Criminal Property Damage Lawyer
Thankfully, the law in Illinois aims to protect its citizens and their properties from all sorts of harms and damages and to hold the perpetrators of such serious crimes accountable. You must take advantage of that and always report such incidents to the relevant authorities, so the person responsible can be apprehended and brought to justice.
You must also hire a criminal defense attorney who can represent you in court and get you the justice that you deserve. A good property damage lawyer will not only see to it that you are well-compensated for your losses but also fight to get the criminal sentenced and punished. Property damage cases can become complicated as the intent of the criminal has to be proven in court, and the monetary value of the damage has to be assessed.
Strong legal counsel and knowledge of the laws surrounding property damage are imperative if you wish to win the case. It is advised that you hire an experienced property damage lawyer and discuss the specifics of your case with them. Contact us today and schedule a FREE case evaluation.