All criminal charges in the state of Illinois fall generally into two categories: felony and misdemeanor. The distinction between felony and misdemeanor is that a felony offense has a possible sentence of one year or more imprisonment, whereas a misdemeanor is less than one year. Most states classify their offenses in this same manner.
The Illinois Code of Corrections defines a misdemeanor in this way:
“Misdemeanor” means any offense for which a sentence to a term of imprisonment in other than a penitentiary for less than one year may be imposed.
See 730 ILCS 5/5‑1‑14.
A Class A misdemeanor offense is ranked as the most serious misdemeanor. It is one step below a felony offense.
The judge is permitted to sentence the defendant to up to one year in jail and fine him $2,500. See 730 ILCS 5/5‑4.5‑55.
The law requires the court to warn the defendant of this maximum penalty during the arraignment and prior to accepting a plea of guilty. The notion is, the court is not bound by any agreement reached by the State and defendant in a negotiated plea. By warning the defendant of the maximum, basically the court is reserving the right to sentence him to something more than what was agreed to. If this occurs, the defendant cannot complain on appeal that he pled guilty without knowing he would go to jail.
In addition to the 364 days in jail and fine of $2,500, the judge is also authorized to sentence the defendant to any of the following:
- Supervision. This sentence is not a conviction. Rather, the court will not enter a judgment against the defendant and continue the case for a period of time (typically one year). At the end of that period, if the defendant has performed all that was asked of him and not violated the law, the court will dismiss the charges. See 730 ILCS 5/5-6-3.1.
- Probation. Probation can last for two years, and requires the defendant to report to a probation officer and comply with all other rules while on probation.
- Conditional discharge. Probation requires the defendant to report, but conditional discharge (also called “CD”) does not require reporting to a probation department. One way of looking at CD is that the defendant is “discharged” from jail on certain “conditions.” The primary condition is not to violate the law.
- Restitution to the victim for actual monetary losses.
- Community service. Many counties make a distinction between community service performed at a non-profit organization and community service performed through the probation or sheriff’s department. In Cook County, community service may be performed through Social Services or through the Sheriff’s Work Alternative Program (SWAP).
- Work release. This is also known as periodic imprisonment.
- Home detention (also called electronic home monitoring).
For any misdemeanor case, there are two critical questions:
- Is the sentence a conviction which is a permanent criminal record?
- Will the judge sentence the defendant to jail?
If you have been charged with a Class A misdemeanor offense in Illinois, you need to retain an attorney whose practice is dedicated to criminal defense. The phrase, “it’s just a misdemeanor,” is not accurate. Even a misdemeanor can cost you employment opportunities in addition to jail time.