What is the Difference Between a Felony and a Misdemeanor in Will County, Illinois?

The felony/misdemeanor distinction in Will County, Illinois forms the basic structure underlying the state’s criminal-offense classification system. There are actually three types of criminal offenses in Illinois: felonies, misdemeanors, and petty offenses. Petty offenses are the least-serious offenses and are punishable by fine only (i.e. no jail time), whereas felonies and misdemeanors carry the potential for a term of imprisonment. This article will focus on the distinction between felonies and misdemeanors, since the spectrum of consequences involved in these types of offenses is more nuanced.

Why does the state even bother with these labels? The practice of categorizing crimes based on severity arises out of society’s long-held belief that “the punishment should fit the crime.” The more serious the offense is, the more serious the punishment should be. Someone who commits a minor crime—i.e. one that is only minimally harmful to society—ought not be punished with life in prison, just as someone who kills in cold blood mustn’t be let off with a mere slap on the wrist. The Illinois system of categorizing and classifying offenses provides judges with guidelines and instructions for penalizing wrongdoers “appropriately.”

Misdemeanors are considered “lesser offenses,” whereas felonies are more serious. The primary characteristic defining the two types of offenses is the amount of possible jail time for each: a maximum of one year (actually, 364 days) for misdemeanors, and a minimum of one year for felonies. The place of incarceration differs as well: misdemeanants serving less than a year remain in county jail, whereas felons are sent to the state penitentiary (the Illinois Department of Corrections).

Note that not all felony or misdemeanor convictions will result in jail time. There are a variety of authorized dispositions Illinois judges may choose from when sentencing a defendant convicted upon a guilty plea or verdict. The most common are fines, restitution, supervision, probation, conditional discharge, and imprisonment. Judges have significant discretion when it comes to sentencing, and unless the legislature has enacted a mandatory minimum sentence for the particular crime charged, the judge may decide that incarceration is too harsh and impose a milder disposition, such as probation or supervision, instead. Misdemeanor offenses may be punished by a mere fine (up to $2,500) or supervision, but the judge is free to fashion a more severe sentence in light of the circumstances.

Even Will County felony convictions do not necessarily mean automatic jail time. Especially if the defendant is a first-time offender, the judge may determine that a fine and/or probation is most appropriate. However, a felony cannot be punished by fine only; the judge must sentence a convicted felon to probation, conditional discharge, or imprisonment. A fine or order of restitution may be imposed in addition to one of these more serious dispositions, but no convicted felon can pay his way out of trouble (at least in theory).

Felonies and misdemeanors are further broken down into classes. In Illinois, felonies are designated as Class X (the most serious) through Classes 1-4 (Class 4 being the least serious). Misdemeanors are classified as A, B, or C, in descending order of severity. As mentioned above, petty offenses are the least serious of all offenses, ranking even below Class C misdemeanors. On the other end of the spectrum, first-degree murder is the most serious criminal offense under Illinois law, occupying a class all its own (even more severe than a Class X felony).

Another major difference between misdemeanors and felonies relates to their permanency on your criminal record. Most misdemeanors can be sealed, whereas only a handful of felonies can be sealed. Criminal record sealing is often an essential step in “starting over” for anyone convicted of a crime, since employers and landlords often conduct background checks on prospective employees or tenants. This practice makes it difficult for applicants with convictions on their rap sheets to find jobs or places to live. Therefore, whether your rap sheet reads “F” or “M” may affect your entire future.

For more information on felonies and misdemeanors, and for help sealing your criminal record in Joliet or Will County, contact an experienced Illinois criminal defense attorney such as Hamilton & Antonsen at 815.729.9220.

Written by: Sarah Hanneken

What Does ‘Bond’ Mean in a Will County, Illinois Criminal Case?

The term “bond” generally describes an obligation or a promise. In a Will County, Illinois criminal case, “bond” refers to the defendant’s obligation to answer the criminal charges brought against him. Even for minor ticketable offenses a bond is established in the sense that the defendant must pay the ticket or contest it in court by a set deadline. Such petty offenses, however, generally do not require the defendant to “post bond”; instead, the defendant is simply issued a ticket with a Notice to Appear, and is trusted to do so. Failure to pay the ticket on time or appear on your court date results in additional consequences.

In more serious criminal case, the bond system takes a slightly different form. If you have been arrested and charged with a misdemeanor or felony, you will remain in police custody until a bond amount has been set. There are three types of bonds in Will County, Illinois: (1) an “I”-bond, which is a personal recognizance bond; (2) a “D” bond, which requires a 10-percent deposit of the total bond amount; and (3) a “C” bond, which requires the total bond amount to be posted before the defendant is granted pretrial release.

An “I”-bond involves the pretrial release of the defendant who promises, usually in writing, to appear for trial at a later date. In other words, the defendant is released “on his word.” No bail money is required. The “I”-bond is Illinois’ term for release on one’s own recognizance.

“D” and “C” bonds, on the other hand, require that a certain amount of money be deposited with the court before the defendant will be released in the time before his trial. This sum is what is referred to as “bail”; its purpose is to reasonably assure that the accused appears to each and every court date despite being out of police custody. If the defendant fails to appear for trial, the bond money is forfeited to the court and a warrant is issued for the defendant’s arrest.

The process of setting bond generally occurs within 48 hours of arrest. For certain offenses, bond is predetermined by statute. Generally, however, bond is set at a “bond hearing.” If you have not already obtained a Will County criminal defense attorney to represent you, this is the point in your case where legal representation becomes crucial. At the bond hearing, your attorney argues before a judge for the lowest and least restrictive bond. In setting the bond, the judge considers the facts of your case, the nature of the charge, your ties to the community, and the likelihood that you will actually return for trial. The bond set should be sufficient to assure compliance with the conditions of bail, but not oppressive under the circumstances. The Eighth Amendment protects accused persons from the imposition of “excessive bail.”

When released on bond in Will County, Illinois, your freedom is subject to certain limitations and conditions. You are not permitted to leave the state of Illinois, and you must not be charged with another offense. Additional restrictions may be imposed depending on the circumstances of your case.

In Joliet or Will County, bail may be posted 24 hours a day, seven days a week at the Will County Adult Detention Facility (95 South Chicago Street, Joliet, Illinois 60436). Persons wishing to post bail for an inmate should present themselves at the Bond Lobby, located on the Ottawa Street side of the Facility.

To discuss your situation with an experienced and affordable Will County attorney, contact Hamilton & Antonsen at 815-729-9220.

Written by:  Sarah Hanneken

Do I need an Attorney for a Traffic Ticket in Will County, Illinois? Or Should I Just Send My Payment in for My Traffic Ticket?

In Joliet and Will County, Illinois, not all traffic tickets are created equal.

This is true, of course, in terms of the fines imposed (e.g., a citation for speeding 5-10 miles over the limit will cost you much less than a citation for reckless driving), but traffic offenses also vary considerably in terms of procedural requirements and the additional consequences of a conviction.

Traffic violations in Illinois are typically categorized into three groups: minor traffic offenses, traffic-related misdemeanor offenses, and driving on a suspended or revoked license (DWLS) offenses. Minor (or “petty”) traffic offenses include standard speeding tickets, lane-change violations, and disobeying red lights or stop signs. These offenses are punishable by fine only. Misdemeanor offenses, by contrast, carry steep fines and are punishable by up to a year in jail. These serious criminal traffic offenses include: reckless driving, “drag racing,” driving 40+ mph in excess of the applicable speed limit; display of false insurance information, fictitious or unlawfully altered driver’s license or permit; fleeing or attempting to elude a peace officer; motor vehicle accidents involving damage to vehicle; and driving while under the influence (DUI) of alcohol or other drugs or intoxicating compounds. This list is not exhaustive. In addition, there are certain aggravating factors what can turn a misdemeanor traffic offense into a felony.

Upon receiving a traffic citation, you must first decide whether or not you are going to contest it. In making this call it is very wise to consult an attorney, as there are many factors that will bear upon this decision—factors which your attorney knows to look for and is in a much better position to assess. For example, an experienced traffic attorney can look at your driving record and the circumstances surrounding the violation to help you determine the likely outcome of the charged offense: Will the attendant “points” on your driving record cause you to lose your license? Are you facing possible jail time?

Many times, drivers who receive a citation for a minor traffic offense in Joliet or Will County often feel the best course of action is to simply pay the fine and move on with their lives. We get it—contesting a traffic violation is time consuming and an all-around pain in the neck. But unlike parking tickets, traffic violations do not simply “go away” after you send in the payment. It is critical to keep in mind that the act of paying your traffic ticket is an admission of guilt; by paying your ticket you are pleading guilty and receiving a conviction. This conviction becomes part of your driving record along with the accompanying ‘points’ on your license and puts you in a position to face more serious charges upon future offenses.

With this in mind, contesting a traffic ticket may not seem like such a bad idea. Even if you cannot beat it entirely, it is often possible to “plead down” to a lesser offense and/or avoid a conviction by agreeing to attend traffic safety classes.

The other thing to keep in mind is that, for many traffic violations, simply sending in payment is not even an option. Some minor offenses and all misdemeanor offenses require you to appear before the judge. While it may seem like the city is just adding insult to injury by requiring you to take time out of your schedule to show up in court, it is also an opportunity for you (or your attorney) to present your case. Even if your citation doesn’t carry a mandatory court appearance, we often recommend requesting a hearing anyway!

And that brings us to the matter of representation: Do you hire an attorney to attend these hearings and defend your case, or do you go it alone? Regardless of the offense, being represented by an experienced traffic lawyer greatly improves your chances of a desirable outcome: less fines, fewer points, better driving record, less or no jail time, etc. And the more serious the offense, the more you have to lose by not hiring an attorney; in fact, for traffic violations carrying possible jail time, it is generally assumed that you will have legal representation, whether by an attorney of your choosing or by a Will County public defender. Yet the procedural knowledge and strategy that an attorney can bring to your case is valuable for all levels of offenses.

Of course we understand that money is a concern: hiring an attorney means added costs when you are already facing hefty fines. But realistically, hiring an attorney will likely end up costing you less in the long run. Consider the money you will save by obtaining an acquittal or pleading down to a lesser offense (two desirable outcomes that are much more likely if you have legal representation): lower (or zero) fines; fewer (or zero) points on your record; avoiding an increase in your insurance premiums; avoiding lost wages by avoiding the need to take time off work to appear in court.

Your future and your pocketbook will be better protected if you choose to hire an attorney for your criminal traffic case. To discuss your situation with an experienced, affordable Will County attorney, contact Hamilton & Antonsen at 815-729-9220.

By: Sarah Hanneken

Can I go to Jail for Driving on a Suspended License in Will County, Illinois?

Suspension of one’s license is a temporary withdrawal of one’s ability to legally operate a motor vehicle.

Driving on a suspended license is a serious violation. It is not the same as a typical traffic ticket. Rather, it is a criminal offense and can carry severe penalties—including jail time. In its mildest form, this offense—which is officially referred to as ‘Driving While License Suspended’ (DWLS)—is generally a Class A misdemeanor. This means the judge has discretion to impose a sentence of up to 364 days in jail and/or a maximum fine of $2,500.

While a judge exercising his discretion is very unlikely to sentence a first-time DWLS offender to the maximum penalty available, the Illinois legislature has implemented mandatory minimums for punishing DWLS offenses which have been committed under certain aggravating circumstances. Thus, even a first-time offender may find himself charged with a felony and/or facing jail time for a Will County DWLS citation.

“Aggravating circumstances” which make DWLS a more serious offense include having prior DWLS citations on your record, prior suspensions resulting from DUIs or other serious traffic offenses, and/or having an overall poor driving record. Yet one of the biggest factors courts look at in determining the severity of your DWLS offense is why your current license was suspended in the first place.

The reasons one’s license may be suspended are numerous and vary widely in severity. Suspension of driving privileges is a common consequence for failure to pay a traffic fine, failure to appear in court, failure to comply with emissions-test requirements, unpaid parking tickets, too many moving violations, and driving without insurance. On the other end of the spectrum, suspension or revocation of one’s license is frequently part of the penalty imposed upon conviction of reckless homicide, leaving the scene of a motor-vehicle accident involving personal injury or death, driving under the influence (DUI), or refusing to submit to a blood or breathalyzer test to determine the presence of intoxicants in your blood while driving in Will County. Separately, one’s license may even be suspended for reasons unrelated to driving (e.g., for failure to pay court-ordered child support).

Not surprisingly, the more severe the reason for the suspension, the more severe a DWLS offense will be. For example, if your license was suspended or revoked in connection with a conviction for reckless homicide, an ensuing DWLS offense may carry a minimum sentence of 30 days in jail or 300 hours of community service. If your license is suspended or revoked for certain other violations, including a DUI conviction, you may face a minimum sentence of 10 days in jail or 30 days of community service if cited for driving on a suspended license.

As mentioned above, the number of prior DWLS convictions on your record also has a significant bearing on the severity of a subsequent offense. And just as the reasons underlying your current suspension is relevant, the reasons for suspension or revocation which preceded each prior DWLS offense is also taken into consideration.

The many factors involved in the prosecution of a DWLS charge make it a particularly difficult charge to defend against. In light of its complexity and the serious repercussions a DWLS conviction can have on your life, it is a very good idea to consult an attorney if you have been cited for driving on a suspended license in Joliet or Will County. Hiring an attorney can mean the difference between spending time in jail and remaining home with your family.

To discuss your DWLS charges or other traffic violations with an experienced, Will County attorney, contact Hamilton & Antonsen at 815-729-9220.

Article written by Sarah Hanneken

What are My Legal Rights After I’ve Been Arrested in Will County, Illinois?

A person is “under arrest” when they are taken into custody by law enforcement authority and not permitted to leave. Many different circumstances amount to an arrest. Some examples include being handcuffed, being placed into the back of a locked police car, or being booked at the police station. In short, any situation in which a reasonable person would believe they are not free to leave meets the legal definition of being “under arrest” (also referred to as being “in custody”).

Perhaps the most well-known right in any arrest situation is the “right to remain silent.” This legal right stems from the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. You may have heard of something called “Miranda rights” or a “Miranda warning”; all these terms deal with the same concept. (The word “Miranda” refers to the Supreme Court case Miranda v. Arizona, which confirmed the right of an individual to remain silent.) Keep in mind, however, that there are some types of information you must give to the police: If arrested, you must give your real name, age, birthdate, and address. Additionally, the police are allowed to ask whether you are armed if this information appears reasonably necessary to protect themselves or others under the circumstances.

Yet beyond this basic information, the police cannot force you to divulge anything. You are not responsible for proving your case to the police. You do not have to defend your actions. Silence cannot be taken as evidence of guilt. Before the police can begin asking you questions about the crime you are accused of committing, they must inform you of your right to remain silent and the consequences of choosing to speak (“anything you say may be used against you in a court of law”). These instructions are what is known as the Miranda warning, and it is your cue to clam up and demand the presence of an attorney. Even if you initially choose to proceed without an attorney, you are allowed to change your mind at any point, in which case all questioning must cease until counsel arrives. No matter what, the police are not permitted to threaten, punish, or otherwise coerce you for refusing to talk.

Your right to an attorney is guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment. You are allowed to hire any attorney you want, provided s/he is authorized, available, and willing to represent you. If you cannot afford a Will County attorney, a Public Defender will be assigned to your case to represent you free of charge. Note, however, that you usually will not receive a Public Defender until your bond hearing. But this does not mean you have to talk to the police in the interim; you can still refuse to undergo any questioning until an attorney is present to protect your rights.

After being arrested, you have a right to be “booked” within a reasonable time frame (usually within 48 hours). The police cannot hold you indefinitely; they must either charge you or let you go. Illinois uses a “totality of the circumstances” test to determine whether your time in custody was reasonable. This means if there is any question regarding the reasonableness of the length of time you were held, a wide variety of factors are taken into account (e.g., the conditions you were being held in, how many times your Miranda rights were read to you, etc.). If you are held for an unreasonable length of time, any confession you make may be deemed inadmissible and thrown out of court. (Note that the law on permissible length of time in custody is different for juveniles and varies depending on the accused’s age and the nature of the alleged offense.)

Another well-known right upon arrest is the right to a phone call. An arrestee is allowed to make a “reasonable number” of phone calls (varies by jurisdiction) in order to contact an attorney and/or a family member. If you are transferred to a new place of custody, this right is renewed.

You also have a right to an itemized list of all money and property taken from you after being arrested. You may need to ask for this list, but if you do the police are required to give it you.

After you’ve been arrested and charged, you have a right to a bond hearing (at least in felony cases). It is your right to have an attorney present at this hearing. Here the court determines how much bail must be posted in order for you to be released from jail while your case is pending. If you are only charged with a misdemeanor (which is less serious than a felony), bond is generally posted at the police station and a hearing does not take place. If you are trusted to return for trial “on your own recognizance,” you may be released without putting down any money. On the other hand, in severe situations the judge might determine that a person is too dangerous or too much of a “flight risk” to be permitted to leave police custody on bail while awaiting trial.

If you have been arrested in Joliet or Will County, be sure your rights are respected and not violated. The best way to do this is to immediately call a defense attorney who is familiar with the criminal court system and law enforcement of Will County. Having an attorney by your side as early in your case as possible will ensure the best possible outcome of your situation, whether it be a simple misunderstanding or a serious offense.

To contact an affordable Will County Attorney to discuss your situation, please contact 815-729-9220.

Written by: Sarah Hanneken

What Exactly is the Definition of ‘Retail Theft’ in Will County, Illinois? (Illinois Statute 720 ILCS 5/16-25) and What Does the State Need to Prove?

Put simply, “retail theft” (commonly referred to as “shoplifting”) is the act of consciously carrying away any merchandise from a retail establishment with the intention of permanently depriving the seller of this merchandise without paying the full asking price.

The Illinois Supreme Court in People v. DePaolo broke the crime of retail theft into three elements. In order to convict a defendant of retail theft, the State must prove that:

  1. the defendant knowingly took possession of, carried away, transferred, or caused to be carried away or transferred merchandise;
  2. the merchandise was displayed, held, stored, or offered for sale in a retail mercantile establishment; and
  3. the defendant intended to retain the merchandise, or intended to permanently deprive the merchant of the possession, use, or benefit of the merchandise, without paying the full retail value of the merchandise.

So what does this mean in Will County, Illinois? Each of these three elements contains certain key words. Consider the first element: The defendant must knowingly carry away the merchandise without having paid for it; this means that a shopper who accidentally leaves the store with unpaid merchandise has not committed the crime of retail theft, as long as it truly was an honest mistake. (The trouble with this defense is that mistake is often difficult to prove, and there are numerous circumstances that permit the court to infer that you were intentionally leaving without paying. More on that later.)
The second element is fairly self-explanatory: The merchandise taken was from the premises of a retail establishment—a store, a market, a mall kiosk, the parking lot of a Home Depot, etc. Now consider the nuances of the third element, which turns on the concept of intent: The law recognizes a difference between an honest mistake and intentional stealing. The ‘intent’ necessary for retail theft is the intent to permanently deprive the seller of the merchandise without paying for it. That can mean keeping the item for yourself, giving it to a friend, or throwing it in the bushes—where it ends up doesn’t matter, as long as you had no intention of returning it in its original condition when you took it.

In some cases, actual removal of the merchandise from the premises is not necessary for a retail theft conviction. The Illinois statute defining retail theft includes acts such as altering or removing price tags, taking items out of their original boxes and placing them in the boxes of cheaper items, using or possessing any tool meant for removing or deactivating theft-detection devices, failing to return rented items, and under-ringing merchandise (e.g., an employee who charges less than the full retail price for a friend or family member). Fraudulent returns are also considered a form of retail theft: It is unlawful for a person to return or exchange unpaid merchandise in an attempt to receive an undue refund or store credit.
As mentioned above, the law permits courts to infer an intent to steal if you are caught concealing unpaid merchandise upon your person or among your belongings in such a way that it is not visible through ordinary observation. This inference is especially supported if you are caught taking concealed unpaid merchandise beyond the last “point of purchase” (e.g. cash register) or payment station, even if you have not yet technically left the store.

If you are accused of retail theft in Will County, Illinois, the State may charge you with either a misdemeanor or a felony (or both), depending on the value of the item and your history of criminal offenses. Therefore, in addition to proving the elements of retail theft, the prosecution must also prove the value of stolen articles in order for the judge to fashion an appropriate sentence. In the absence of contrary evidence, testimony as to value by someone familiar with the merchandise (such as a store manager) is adequate proof.

As a general rule, retail theft of merchandise valued at $300 or less is a Class A misdemeanor; if the merchandise costs over $300, it is a Class 4 felony. However, the charges may be heightened if the defendant has a criminal record or if he or she left with the unpaid merchandise through an emergency exit.

Because a retail theft conviction in Joliet or Will County, Illinois can leave a permanent mark on your criminal record, it is essential that you consult an experienced retail theft attorney if faced with such a charge. In Will County, anything you say to the store owner or manager may be used against you by the prosecution, so it is best to call us immediately before saying, signing, or doing anything if you’ve been accused.

Please call Hamilton and Antonsen for a free consultation and if you are in need of an aggressive, smart, affordable, and experienced Will County criminal lawyer.  815.729.9220

Written by: Sarah Hanneken