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Law Would Give Criminal Defense for Breaking into Vehicles to Save Animals

Posted on in Criminal Law

Law Would Give Criminal Defense for Breaking into Vehicles to Save AnimalsWhen civilians respond to emergency situations, they often do not have the time to think about the criminal or civil consequences of their actions. For instance, you can be arrested and sued for breaking into someone’s vehicle for the purpose of saving an animal that was suffering from heat exhaustion. The animal may have been at risk of dying, but your actions qualified as criminal trespass to a vehicle and criminal damage to property. The owner of the vehicle could also file a lawsuit seeking compensation for the vehicle damage, even though he or she was negligent in leaving the animal locked in the car. Illinois lawmakers have proposed a bill that would give people an affirmative defense against criminal charges in this scenario, as well as immunity from civil liability.

The Legislation

Illinois law allows law enforcement and emergency services personnel to forcibly enter a vehicle in order to save a trapped animal from heat exhaustion. The proposed legislation would extend a similar permission to civilians. However, there would be several requirements that you would need to follow in order to avoid criminal or civil liability:

  • You must have a reasonable belief that the animal is in imminent danger because it is trapped in the vehicle;
  • You must determine that forcible entry is the only means of freeing the animal from the vehicle;
  • You must attempt to contact emergency services as soon as possible, if not before taking action;
  • You must use only as much force as is necessary to open the vehicle;
  • You must stay with the animal until emergency services arrive; and
  • You must make a good faith effort to leave a note on the vehicle, explaining the situation to the owner and giving your contact information.


There is an important difference between providing immunity and an affirmative defense. Prosecutors would still be able to charge you with breaking into the vehicle, but you could have legal ground to request the charge be dismissed. The court would decide whether you met the requirements of the law. You could face criminal and civil consequences if the court rules that your decision to enter the vehicle was unnecessary or you caused excessive damage to the vehicle.

Good Samaritans

People should not be punished for trying to help others, but laws do not always protect good samaritans. A McHenry County criminal defense attorney at Botto Gilbert Lancaster, PC, can explain your benevolent intentions in order to dismiss your charges or reduce your punishment. To schedule a free consultation, call 815-338-3838.



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