If you have been arrested in the state of Illinois, the prosecutor who reviews the police report may decide to charge you with a crime. Illinois state law requires all crimes to be spelled out in black and white, so that individuals can see what acts are considered criminal before acting.
There are two basic levels of crimes in Illinois: misdemeanors and felonies. The major difference between the two different levels is that if you are convicted of a misdemeanor crime, the punishment cannot exceed one year of incarceration. There may be other penalties, such as probation or fines, but those are limited too, based on the level of misdemeanor crime you may be charged with. Petty crimes are only punishable by fines. You can find misdemeanor and petty offenses in the Illinois Compiled Statutes 720 Ill. Comp. Stat. §§ 5/2-7, 5/2-11, 730 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/5-1-17 (2020).
Keep in mind that the judge has broad discretion when it comes to sentencing, except for a limited number of charges. Experienced, skilled Illinois misdemeanor lawyers will work hard to help you minimize your sentence and possibly avoid a conviction altogether.
Misdemeanors Come in Different Classes and Carry Different Levels of Punishment
There are 3 different classes of Illinois Misdemeanors:
- Class A misdemeanors may carry up to 364 days of incarceration, up to 2 years of probation, and/or a fine. The minimum fine for a Class A misdemeanor is $75, and the maximum is $2,500. Some examples of Class A misdemeanors include simple battery, trespassing, theft of up to $500, or violating a protective order.
- Class B misdemeanors may carry up to 6 months imprisonment, up to 2 years of probation, and a fine with a minimum of $75 and a maximum of $1,500.
- Class C misdemeanors may carry up to 30 days in jail, 2 years of probation, and a fine. Fines, as with Class B misdemeanors, start at $75 and may range up to $1,500.
Depending on the type of crime and its consequences, anyone convicted of a misdemeanor crime may also be required to pay restitution if there is a victim, perform several hours of community service, or attend a drug treatment program.
How Misdemeanors Become Felonies
Some people will tell you that a misdemeanor is not a big deal, but there is one important reason that even a misdemeanor charge could affect you in a big way down the road. Many misdemeanor crimes can be charged as felonies if the prosecutor sees that you have a prior conviction for the same charge. Usually there is a time limit, but sometimes not. You can be charged with a felony if you have two prior misdemeanor convictions for operating under the influence, or if you have one prior conviction but were transporting a minor under the age of 16 during the latest incident.
There are also felony enhancements available for charges like violating a protective order or stalking order. The courts will hold you to the same standard whether or not you are represented by an attorney, so it is important to speak with an experienced Illinois criminal lawyer as soon as possible if you know the State is filing charges against you.
If you are convicted of a felony, the consequences may be far more serious. There is the possibility of prison time, as all felonies are eligible for at least one year of incarceration. The judge will have less discretion when it comes to sentencing, and you may be involved in the criminal justice system much longer because of a felony. Even more importantly, a felony conviction will follow you throughout other areas of your life, and you have trouble finding a job, renting an apartment, or taking out a loan. Many people do not realize that every criminal conviction stays on your record for life, unless you request an expungement and the judge allows you to get the conviction erased from your record.
What Is a Criminal Expungement?
There are some circumstances, such as identity theft, where the courts have always allowed individuals who can prove their case to get an expungement. There are other kinds of circumstances where you are always eligible to receive an expungement:
- Your record may be expunged if you were arrested, but the prosecutor never filed charges in the case.
- You can ask for an expungement if there was either a dismissal or an acquittal in the case, which means that the charges were filed but there was no conviction.
- If the prosecutor charges you, but a judge later finds that there was no probable cause for your arrest, you can have your arrest expunged.
- If you were convicted, but then your conviction was either vacated or reversed, the conviction can be taken off your record.
You may also be able to seal certain misdemeanors even if you were convicted. Some convictions can never be expunged, including:
- Any conviction for driving under the influence
- Reckless driving (unless you were under 25 when convicted)
- Sex offenses (except prostitution)
- Domestic battery
- Dog fighting, or another offense related to humanely treatment of animals.
The sooner you speak with an attorney, the sooner your attorney can start fighting your case. In criminal cases, it is vital to act quickly to make sure that any evidence that is in your favor is preserved for when you need it. Your attorney may also want to speak with any potential witnesses as soon as possible, while their memories are still fresh regarding the incident. Illinois also has a statute of limitations, meaning that if you are not charged within 18 months of committing a crime, the prosecutor is no longer allowed to file a misdemeanor charge against you.
The prosecuting attorney has no reason to give your case the extra attention it needs so that you can prove your innocence. Prosecutors have many cases with similar charges and are usually more concerned about public perception than with protecting your rights. If you or a loved one has been arrested, or suspect that an arrest is coming up in the near future, you should speak with someone immediately who will take your side. Call the skilled Illinois Misdemeanor Lawyers who have already successfully assisted hundreds of clients with their criminal charges.