Auto Theft Laws and Defenses: A Primer

Car Theft

An auto theft charge is no laughing matter; it is a serious situation in which you could be deprived of your liberty for many years. The state of Illinois has several statutes concerning auto theft that outline what constitutes vehicle theft and also define the penalties for an auto theft conviction. Here is a primer on this important criminal law issue.

Auto Theft Definition

According to Illinois state law, a person is guilty of auto theft when they obtain control of an automobile without the owner’s consent or get control of the vehicle through deception. You are also guilty of auto theft if you threaten a vehicle owner to get control of their automobile or if you knowingly take possession of a stolen vehicle.


Illinois has an auto theft statute that pertains to joyriding. If someone takes a vehicle for a joyride and does not intend to permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle, then the perpetrator can be charged with criminal trespass to vehicles. Criminal trespass to vehicles charge is a misdemeanor, which generally carries a lesser penalty than a typical auto theft infraction.


Illinois auto theft laws also deal with carjacking. A carjacking occurs when someone uses force, or threatens the owner of a vehicle with the imminent use of force, to gain control of the automobile. The penalties for carjacking can be more severe than for other auto theft charges.

Auto Theft Consequences

The consequences of an auto theft conviction depend on several factors, such as the value and ownership of the vehicle and whether the use of force was involved.


A key factor is the value of the automobile that was stolen. For instance, if the vehicle is valued at $500 to $10,000, the law classifies the theft as a Class 3 felony, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. A theft of a vehicle valued over $10,000 but less than $100,000 has a penalty of up to seven years in prison.

Also, stealing a vehicle worth more than $500,000 could land the perpetrator as much as 15 to 30 years of prison time, depending on the exact value of the vehicle.

Another crucial consideration concerns vehicle ownership. Illinois law considers that theft of government-owned vehicles to be extremely serious, and the penalties for stealing such a vehicle are typically higher than stealing a privately owned automobile.

Also, as mentioned earlier, using force, such as brandishing a firearm, during an auto theft falls under the carjacking statute and usually carries more severe penalties than when no force is used.

Auto Theft Defenses

Anyone charged with auto theft has several possible defenses at their disposal.  A common defense revolves around the issue of consent. Perhaps you had a conversation with the owner of the vehicle in which you assumed that the owner consented to your use of the vehicle.

Another possible defense is that you took control of the vehicle by mistake. For example, if you drive the wrong car off of a rental lot, your defense to any possible auto theft charge is that you simply made an honest mistake and took the wrong vehicle.

You can also argue in some instances that you did not intend to deprive the owner of the vehicle permanently and that a lesser charge, such as joyriding, should apply.

Auto theft charges in Illinois can result in very severe penalties if you are found guilty. If you are facing an auto theft charge, you need the best representation possible, such as the experienced criminal law attorneys at Daniels, Long & Pinsel, LLC. Contact us for more information.

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