The Class X felony is, short of first degree murder, the most serious felony offense on the books in Illinois. Upon a finding of guilt, the court cannot sentence the defendant to probation. The offense has a mandatory minimum sentence of 6-30 years in the Department of Corrections. The judge must sentence the defendant to prison. See 730 ILCS 5/5-8-1(a)(3).
The only way a defendant can receive probation is if the prosecution agrees to amend the charge (e.g., by reducing the class of felony to a lower grade that allows probation). Because of the mandatory minimum sentence, the prosecution has all the power in negotiations.
Even a first-time offender who has no criminal background is subject to a mandatory prison sentence. It is not a matter of the judge’s discretion in sentencing.
The following charges are Class X felonies in Illinois:
- Aggravated kidnapping, 720 ILCS 5/10-2.
- Aggravated battery with a firearm, 720 ILCS 5/12-4.2(a)(1).
- Aggravated battery of a child, 720 ILCS 5/12-4.3(a).
- Home invasion, 720 ILCS 5/19-6.
- Aggravated criminal sexual assault, 720 ILCS 5/12-14.
- Predatory criminal sexual assault of a child (over 17 years of age and victim under 13 years old), 720 ILCS 5/12-14.1(1).
- Armed robbery, 720 ILCS 5/18-2.
- Aggravated vehicular hijacking, 720 ILCS 5/18-4.
- Aggravated arson, 720 ILCS 5/20-1.1.
- Possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver (such as 15-100 grams or possession with intent to deliver within 1,000 feet of a public park, church, school, or public housing), 720 ILCS 570/401.
As said, probation is not possible under Illinois law for a Class X felony offense. See 730 ILCS 5/5-5-3(c)(2)(C).
When a defendant is charged with a Class X felony offense, negotiations with the prosecution are difficult. The reason is, the prosecution has no reason to negotiate. The State’s position can be, ‘Live or die by the Class X (6-30 years prison), the risk is yours, not ours.’
If the defendant goes to trial and loses, it is 6-30 years. On the other hand, when the prosecution offers to reduce the charge to, for example, a Class 1 felony (4-15 years prison), then rejecting the offer means giving up the possibility of 4 years prison as opposed to 6. Therefore, the defendant would be taking a great risk to refuse a reduced charge from the State.
Generally the only way to get good results in Class X felony cases is to push the matter to trial, and be able to back up the threat of trial. The lawyer must be experienced enough in trial that the State takes him or her seriously when arguing on behalf of the defendant. The prosecutors that are assigned to Class X felonies typically have the most experience from the State’s Attorney’s office from that county. Therefore, the defense lawyer should have just as much experience in order for the case to be evenly matched.
A skilled criminal defense attorney can assist his or her client in a case such as this. It is important to hire a lawyer with substantial felony trial experience.