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Illinois Criminal Law: An Overview

Chicago is the third-most populous city in the U.S., and while it may have gained a recent reputation for homicides and gun violence, violent crime rates in both Chicago specifically and Illinois generally have steadily declined according to annual reports.

But Illinois is far bigger than Cook County, and criminal cases and other legal issues can arise from Rockford to Marion. Here’s a brief look at some major Illinois criminal laws.

Illinois Felonies and Misdemeanors

State statutes divide criminal offenses into two main categories: felonies or misdemeanors. This distinction depends on the severity of the crime and the maximum possible punishment. Any Illinois criminal statutes must comply with the state and U.S. constitutions.

Felonies in Illinois can include everything from white collar crime to drug charges and are divided into six distinct classes depending on the offense and punishment:

  • Class 4: Lower-level felonies like aggravated DUI, reckless discharge of a firearm, and possession of more than 100 grams of cannabis; punishable by 1-3 years in prison.
  • Class 3: More serious crimes like aggravated battery, involuntary manslaughter, and manufacture or delivery of a controlled substance; punishable by 2-5 years in prison.
  • Class 2: Felonies such as kidnapping, arson, aggravated domestic battery, burglary, possession of a stolen motor vehicle or firearm, and aggravated sex crimes; punishable by 3-7 years in prison.
  • Class 1: Dangerous or violent crimes like residential burglary, criminal sexual assault, second degree murder, and vehicular hijacking; punishable by 4-15 years in prison.
  • Class X: The second-highest felony distinction including aggravated battery of a child, armed robbery, and home invasion; punishable by 6-30 years in prison.
  • Murder: Under Illinois law, murder is its own felony classification; the minimum sentence for murder is 20 years in prison while the maximum is a lifetime sentence.

Misdemeanors in Illinois are low-level criminal offenses punishable by one year or less in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. These include traffic and public nuisance violations and other so-called “petty” offenses.

Capital Punishment in Illinois

Illinois does not have the death penalty. Only 12 executions had occurred in Illinois since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. However, in 2011, Governor Pat Quinn signed legislation that abolished the death penalty in Illinois. The highest felony penalty is life without parole.

Illinois DUI Laws

As in most other states, it is illegal to drive in Illinois while intoxicated with a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) level of .08 percent or higher. However, any level of impairment can be illegal when combined with bad driving. Additionally, Illinois’s driving under the influence laws are not specific to alcohol and can include intoxication by prescription drugs, marijuana, and other narcotics. If you are involved in a DUI case, you are probably also facing potential civil penalties, including suspension or revocation of your driver’s license. Some criminal defense lawyers will help you address those concerns as well, even if they are outside of the criminal justice system.

Concealed Carry in Illinois

Illinois residents may carry a loaded or unloaded concealed firearm in public for personal defense after first obtaining a concealed carry license. Anyone who meets the application requirements shall be issued a concealed carry license. Requirements include a $150 fee, a valid Firearm Owners Identification card, and a clean five-year criminal record, among other qualifications.

Illinois Domestic Violence Laws

Illinois Domestic Violence Act criminalizes hitting, choking, threatening, or harassing another family or household member. The law is not limited to spouses or children and its definition of “household members” includes people who share or used to share a home, apartment, or other common dwelling, people who have or allegedly have child in common, and people who are dating or engaged or used to date, including same sex couples.

Domestic battery is generally classified as a Class 2 felony in Illinois.

Expungement in Illinois

Expungement is a process that allows you to erase some criminal arrests, charges, or convictions from your record. Under Illinois law, you can expunge arrests for misdemeanors and felonies that did not result in a conviction, and convictions for misdemeanors and felonies if the conviction was reversed or vacated. Minor traffic tickets and convictions resulting in probation, jail or prison time, or fines may not be expunged, but you may have the option to have those records sealed.

Protect Your Rights With An Illinois Criminal Defense Attorney

You always have a right to an attorney when facing criminal charges. Before hiring an attorney, make sure they are familiar with local criminal statutes and procedures. While most criminal defense lawyers should be able to handle misdemeanor charges, not all have the qualifications or experience to handle serious felony cases. Additionally, you may want legal assistance if you want to expunge or seal your criminal records.

Some factors to consider when evaluating a law firm include:

  • Is the law office conveniently located?
  • Does the law firm offer a free consultation?
  • What are the main practice areas of the law firm?
  • Do you feel confident in the attorney-client relationship?
  • How many years of experience does the criminal defense attorney have?
  • If you are charged with a federal crime, do they have experience in federal court?

A qualified Illinois criminal defense attorney could mean the difference between going to jail and going free. Take the time to find an experienced criminal defense lawyer so that you can get the best possible outcome in your criminal case.

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