Every day I receive calls from clients who have been recently arrested for crimes in Illinois. The first thing they want to know is the possible sentence they will receive based on their crime. I always begin by reminding the client that they are presumed innocent of the crime for which they are charged. I explain to the client that the State must prove them guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. That being said, should they find themselves in a position where they are going to be sentenced for a crime, I can explain to them the possible punishment for the crime for which they have been charged.
In Illinois, there are two broad categories of criminal offenses. The first category of offense is known as a misdemeanor. In Illinois, a misdemeanor is a crime punishable by a maximum of 364 days in the county jail. A person cannot be sentenced to prison for a misdemeanor offense. The second category of criminal offense is what is known as a felony. In Illinois, a felony is a crime that is punishable by one year or more in the Illinois Department of Corrections. Within the category of felony offenses, there is a great range of potential sentences, depending on the severity of the crime that is committed. For example, a person convicted of retail theft over $300, faces a sentence of between two and five years in the Illinois Department of corrections. They may also be eligible for probation. On the other hand, someone convicted of first degree murder faces between 20 and 60 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections.
Prior to 1998, it was very easy to determine the length of time that a person would spend in the Illinois Department of Corrections after being convicted for a crime. However, in 1998, the Illinois legislature passed what was referred to as the truth-in-sentencing law. This legislation changed the amount of good time that a prisoner would receive depending on the crime for which they were serving time. Prior to the 1998 legislation, every prisoner would receive day-for-day credit no matter the crime for which they were convicted. For example, prior to 1998, a person receiving a 40 year sentence for murder would only serve 20 years in prison. For many crimes, this changed in 1998. In 1998, the legislature changed the rules of good time for many of the serious and violent crimes.
The biggest change came in the area of murder convictions. Beginning in 1998, a person convicted of murder would receive no good time credit whatsoever. In other words, a person convicted of murder and sentenced to 40 years in prison would serve 40 years in prison. Prior to the change, the same person would only serve 20 years. Another key change came in the area of violent crimes resulting in great bodily injury. Beginning in 1998, a person convicted of armed robbery, home invasion, attempted murder, aggravated battery or other violent crimes that resulted in great bodily injury to the victim, would only receive 4.5 days of good time per month. In other words, a person convicted of one of these crimes would have to serve 85% of their sentence in prison. This was a drastic change in the law from a time where such individuals would only serve 50% of their time in prison.
Despite the change in the law in 1998, most crimes in Illinois remain what we call 50% crimes. In other words, a person who is sentenced to prison for these crimes will still receive day-for-day credit and will only serves 50% of their sentence. The vast majority of crimes in Illinois are still 50% crimes, including burglary, felony theft, forgery, most drug crimes and other non-violent offenses.
If you or a loved one has recently been charged with a crime in Illinois, contact a criminal defense attorney immediately. A knowledgeable and aggressive criminal defense lawyer can win your case or minimize the amount of time that you will spend in jail.