Property damage can often be a complex subject. In many cases, property damage never leaves the realm of civil litigation, and routine forms of property damage—such as automobile accidents—rarely involve attorneys or lawsuits. However, some forms of property damage can cross the line into criminal cases and may even qualify as felonies under Illinois law.
If you are facing one of these charges, it can be challenging to understand what steps you should take to defend yourself. This guide will discuss three critical facts you need to know to understand your case and ensure the best possible outcome.
1. Penalties Can Vary Substantially
Penalties in a criminal property damage case often depend on numerous factors, including intent, the severity of the damage, and the type of property affected. Offenses can range from Class A misdemeanors for minor damage to Class 1 felonies for major damage or damage involving specific locations or property, such as places of worship.
Unfortunately, a common misconception is that misdemeanors are minor crimes without the possibility of relatively severe penalties. Even if your property damage case only qualifies as a misdemeanor, you may face jail time of up to one year and fines of more than $2,000. Sentencing can vary depending on the details of your case, but a misdemeanor can profoundly impact your life.
For more severe cases, the possibility of jail time and fines can be much more substantial. If the court convicts you of causing more than $10,000 in damage to another’s property, you may receive a fine for the full value of damage to the property.
2. There Is No One-Size-Fits-All Defense
Criminal property damage charges typically hinge on a few key facts. Critically, criminal property damage charges require malicious or knowing intent, which is why most motor vehicle accidents do not qualify. The prosecution must also prove that you caused the damage and establish the value of the damage to justify the class of your offense.
As a result, defending against a criminal property damage charge can be complex, and the best defense will depend on the particular facts of your case. For example, your attorney may not dispute that you were responsible for the damage, but they may dispute that you acted knowingly or maliciously. In other cases, it may be necessary to dispute material facts that place you at the scene of the damage.
Not every defense will mean you don’t need to pay the property owner. If you were responsible for the damage, you might still be liable for civil litigation, forcing you to pay restitution. However, a successful defense against a criminal charge for property damage can allow you to avoid jail time and a misdemeanor or felony on your record.
3. Timing Matters
Criminal cases are much different from other legal issues you may have faced. Unlike going to traffic court or dealing with an outstanding debt, a criminal charge will require both the prosecution and defense to collect substantial evidence and argue numerous technical legal points. In particular, physical evidence and eyewitness testimony are often crucial in property damage cases.
The prosecution must follow strict rules of evidence, and procedural errors can cause the judge to exclude evidence or even throw your case out. However, proving procedural issues can become harder as time goes on. Likewise, your attorney will need to gather evidence in your defense, and physical defense can be challenging or impossible to retrieve once enough time passes.
Your chances of a successful defense are much higher if you start working with an attorney immediately. This head start will give your legal team the necessary time to collect evidence, formulate a defense, and help you avoid jail time or severe fines.
Daniels, Long & Pinsel, LLC has experience defending clients from a wide range of criminal charges. If you’re facing a property damage charge and don’t know where to turn, we can provide you with the legal representation you need to defend yourself.