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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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:
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.
An arrest and conviction can change everything. Fines or time in jail are the immediate concern, but a conviction will also mean a criminal record that can make it harder to find a job and housing for years to come. If you are arrested or learn you are under investigation, the first thing you should do is contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. You can search LawInfo’s legal directory to find a local criminal defense attorney who can protect your rights, lay out your options, and help you determine the best way to proceed with mounting a defense and limiting potential penalties.