Offenses are segregated into two different groups within the criminal justice system: felonies and misdemeanors. Under Illinois law, prosecutors consider the facts of the case and the severity of a crime before classifying it as a felony or misdemeanor. Misdemeanors generally carry lighter sentences than felony charges. These crimes may not be punished with more than a year in jail, whereas, felonies typically draw a higher sentence of at least a year in prison.
Misdemeanors in Illinois include simple assault, domestic battery, trespassing, minor driving offenses, etc. Other crimes of a more serious nature, such as robbery, manslaughter, aggravated battery, and so on are treated as felony offenses. A team of criminal defense attorneys from a misdemeanor and felony law firm will know the class your criminal charge falls in and will develop the appropriate legal strategy to have the charges reduced or dismissed altogether.
The Difference Between a Felony and a Misdemeanor
The severity of a crime and the extent of penalties are the two major differences between felonies and misdemeanors. Under Illinois law, the range of penalties depends on the class of crime. Every criminal offense is assigned a specific class after being categorized as a felony or misdemeanor.
The lowest classification of a crime in Illinois is a Class C misdemeanor while the highest classification is a Class X felony. The potential for imprisonment varies drastically between the two. Misdemeanors can only be punished by a maximum jail time of one year. In contrast, felonies can carry a prison sentence of one to thirty years or even more, depending on the presence of any aggravating factors.
The time served for misdemeanors is usually in county jail, whereas the time served for felonies is in the Illinois Department of Corrections. However, you should note that you may not have to serve any jail time – for both felonies and misdemeanors. Judges have multiple penalties available for complex criminal charges.
It’s vital to understand that felonies and misdemeanors have different impacts on a criminal record. These records are generally accessible during background checks conducted by landlords, employers, and government agencies. Misdemeanors have less of a “red flag” since the nature of these crimes is less serious.
In fact, criminal lawyers routinely have misdemeanors sealed, which means the charges are hidden and don’t show up on background checks. You can also essentially give yourself a “do-over” by expunging the misdemeanor charge (having it removed from the record for good). On the other hand, felonies are usually not sealable or removable. Having a felony show up during a background check may prevent you from getting the job of your dreams or that apartment you love.
Why Are Crimes Classified?
In criminal law and sentencing, there is a big focus on ensuring the “punishment fits the crime.” For instance, murder obviously carries a higher penalty than stealing a dress from the local department store. While all crimes are taken seriously, the severity of the crime does play a role in the penalties associated with it.
Though a misdemeanor carries a less severe sentence compared to a felony, it doesn’t make it less serious. If you find yourself accused of a criminal offense, you should retain the services of a skilled and experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Your defense attorney will look at all available evidence to build a strong case.
A robust and accomplished criminal defense lawyer can conduct the investigations required to gather evidence to support your case. They may also contact any potentially helpful expert witnesses to testify on your behalf as well. Your attorney will do everything possible to avoid criminal convictions or reduce the penalties. It takes strong legal representation to ensure you have the best criminal defense possible.
What Is a Felony?
Felonies are crimes that are punishable by imprisonment for more than 12 months. These are among the most serious crimes under Illinois law. Consequences of a criminal conviction for felony offenses can go so far as losing certain civil rights. You may lose the right to vote, the right to possess or own firearms, and the right to hold public office.
A felony is defined as a crime punishable by imprisonment in excess of a year by the federal government. Any serious offense that is punishable by exactly 12 months or less is classified as a misdemeanor. A potential sentence determines the classification of a crime as a felony.
Felonies are further classified on the basis of the seriousness of the crime and context. There are certain offenses that are considered more severe than others. Felony crimes in Illinois are categorized into 5 categories – Class X felony and Class 1 through 4 felonies.
The most serious offenses are categorized as Class X felonies. Convictions for these types of crimes are particularly costly. In contrast, Class 4 felonies are the least severe felony crimes. Convictions for all types of felonies carry mandatory minimum penalties, which makes it important to work with an experienced criminal defense lawyer who can work to reduce or dismiss your charges.
Class X felony
These are among the most severe types of crime and typically involve a high degree of violence. In most cases, the accused is believed to have acted with intentional conduct. White-collar crimes and other non-violent crimes that fall under the scope of this category usually involve drug-related money or a staggeringly high dollar value.
These are a few examples of Class X felonies:
- Drug manufacturing
- Armed robbery
- Aggravated arson
- Drug trafficking (high quantities)
- Aggravated kidnapping
Class 1 felony
Class 1 felonies are the second most serious type of crime in Illinois. They tend to involve violence or high amounts of theft. Examples of Class 1 felonies include:
- Second-degree murder
- Sexual assault
- Aggravated possession of a firearm
- Theft of up to $100,000
Class 2 felony
These felonies are the third most serious type of felony classification in Illinois. They carry mandatory prison time and fines. These are a few examples of class 2 felonies:
- Possession of a stolen firearm
- Drug possession over certain quantities
Class 3 felony
A Class 3 felony may carry severe repercussions if you are convicted. These are a few examples of significant criminal charges that fall under the scope of class 3 felonies:
- Involuntary manslaughter
- Theft of less than $500
- Sexual misconduct with a disabled person
- Aggravated battery
- Fraudulently obtaining state benefits of more than $300
Class 4 felony
These are the least severe type of felony crimes in the state of Illinois. With that said, this doesn’t mean that you don’t need a sound defense strategy from a top criminal defense attorney. A conviction may result in a permanent criminal record and mandatory minimum sentencing. Class 4 felony crimes include:
- Filing a false police report
- Sexual abuse
- Identity theft
- Offering a bribe to a public servant
- Tampering with public records
Punishments for Felonies
There are different penalties for different crime classifications. In general, felony crimes have the harshest sentences and penalties of starting at $25,000. Unfortunately, even after a convicted felon has served their prison sentence, they may experience lifelong difficulties as a result of their criminal record.
There are several collateral consequences to a felony conviction making it necessary to consult with a proven Chicago criminal defense lawyer. These are the punishments for felony crimes in Illinois:
- Class X felony: Minimum of 6 years up to 30 years imprisonment.
- Class 1 felony: Minimum of 4 years up to 15 years imprisonment.
- Class 2 felony: Minimum of 3 years up to 7 years imprisonment.
- Class 3 felony: Minimum of 2 years up to 5 years imprisonment.
- Class 4 felony: Minimum of 1-year imprisonment.
Felony Prosecutions in Illinois
Criminal investigation and arrest
Arrest and criminal investigation form the initial phase of a felony case in Illinois. However, the investigation phase may be used by a notable criminal defense attorney to prepare a multitude of defenses.
The police may not satisfy the requirements of a warrant exception or find enough plausible evidence that you were engaged in any criminal activity. It’s possible that the officer may have misrepresented certain facts to obtain the warrant or exceeded the scope of the warrant when conducting a search. Basically, the investigation carried out immediately before and after the arrest may provide a skilled criminal lawyer with the legal justifications to exclude critical evidence from trial.
An arraignment hearing occurs shortly following an arrest and involves the reading of formal charges to the criminal defendant. Typically, this is where a plea of guilty, no contest, or not guilty verdict will be entered into the criminal charges. In some cases, criminal defense attorneys advise their clients to invoke the right to a mute plea. In this situation, the judge will enter a not-guilty plea, which will protect your right to challenge the earlier proceedings.
Illinois law requires an accused to have a trial within 120–160 days of their formal arrest unless they enter a guilty plea during the arraignment. Plea negotiations may continue all the way until and even during the trial. The jury or judge will determine a verdict if a plea agreement is not reached.
You will be brought back to the court by a police officer for a subsequent hearing regarding sentencing if you are convicted. Your attorney will need to file a challenge or appeal to the conviction within 30 days. You need to be prompt with your appeal request if you want to avoid an unintended waiver of the right to appeal.
When Can a Misdemeanor Be Charged as Felony?
There are certain crimes that are usually classified as misdemeanors, but can turn into felonies under the following circumstances (720 Ill. Comp. Stat. §§ 5/12-3.9, 5/16-1 (2020)):
- If you have a previous conviction for the same type of crime, such as violating an anti-stalking order.
- If you committed the crime in a certain place, such as at a school or place of worship.
What Is a Misdemeanor?
Any crime that is not classified as a felony is called a misdemeanor. When charged with a misdemeanor, you will receive a court date. You need to work with a Chicago criminal defense attorney that has experience defending clients charged with sex crimes, retail theft, gun crimes, and theft crimes, among others.
While a misdemeanor is considered a less serious crime than felony charges, it still warrants an experienced criminal attorney. In fact, having a former prosecutor like attorney Purav Bhatt aggressively defend your case will give you an advantage. This may improve the likelihood of getting a not-guilty verdict.
It is preferable to have an offense charged as a misdemeanor instead of a felony. Chicago criminal defense lawyers work hard to get charges classified as misdemeanors since a conviction carries a maximum prison sentence of 1 year. In addition, it is easier to suppress evidence in case of misdemeanor charges.
In Illinois, misdemeanors are classified into classes A, B, and C with class A as the most serious and class C as the least serious offense. It is important to understand that any misdemeanor charge will become part of your criminal history regardless of the classification unless your attorney has your charge expunged or gets you pardoned.
Class A misdemeanor
Class A misdemeanors have the most severe penalties and are usually only a step down from felony convictions. These are a few examples of crimes classified as Class A misdemeanors:
- Simple battery
- Domestic violence (such as simple domestic battery)
- Theft (not more than $500)
- Violating an anti-stalking no-contact order
- Drug crimes (possession of marijuana or another controlled substance)
- Illegal possession of a firearm
- Reckless driving
Class B misdemeanor
Class B offenses are the second most serious misdemeanor charges. These are a few examples of crimes that can be included in Class B misdemeanors:
- Dumping garbage on another person’s property
- Possession of marijuana (more than 30 grams)
- Criminal trespass
- Telephone harassment
- Cyber harassment
Class C misdemeanor
These charges are the most minor criminal cases. However, you should still have an attorney present to aggressively protect your rights. Even a Class C misdemeanor conviction will show up on your background checks and impact your life.
These are a few crimes that are treated as Class C misdemeanors:
- Simple assault
- Reckless or disorderly conduct
- Illegal storage of gun
These are the potential punishments for misdemeanor convictions in Illinois:
Class A misdemeanors
- Less than a year in jail.
- Up to 2 years of conditional discharge or probation.
- Fine between $75–$2,500.
Class B misdemeanors
- Six months in jail.
- Up to 2 years of probation.
- Fine between $75–$1,500.
Class C misdemeanors
- Up to 30 days in jail.
- Up to 2 years of probation.
- Fine between $75–$1,500.
Misdemeanor Prosecutions in Illinois
The entire process of prosecuting a misdemeanor charge is very similar to prosecuting a felony criminal matter. Once the charge has been filed by the police department, you will have an opportunity to enter a plea. In a misdemeanor criminal case, there are two options for trial where a plea of not guilty is entered:
- Jury trial: 6–12 jurors comprising of the defendant’s peers will form the jury. They will deliver the sentence after weighing the evidence and rendering a verdict.
- Bench trial: A judge will hear the evidence to reach a verdict and impose the sentence
You will be acquitted if the jury or judge finds you not guilty of the crime with which you have been charged. It takes a top-rated Chicago criminal defense attorney to ensure the best possible outcome. While a stellar criminal attorney is always prepared to defend clients at trial, sometimes choosing a negotiated plea bargain is the better course of action in criminal defense cases.
Prosecutors tend to have heavy caseloads. They prefer clearing misdemeanor actions quickly to free up time and pursue more serious offenders. You should ask your attorney if they have been able to negotiate favorable results for past clients. An experienced attorney may also be able to have your criminal record sealed or expunged as part of the plea deal.
Sealing a Misdemeanor Criminal Record
Everyone makes mistakes. Sometimes, a misdemeanor may be the result of a misunderstanding, accident, or just a bad day. No one should be made to suffer the consequences of their mistake after serving their sentence in the form of a permanent criminal record. A seasoned attorney will be able to have your records expunged or sealed so that a potential employer, landlord, or anyone from the general public cannot access them.
Criminal record sealing is not available to all offenders. You will need to submit a request to have your case reviewed by the Illinois Prisoner Review Board. In some cases, a hearing may be involved. However, this is not always necessary. You can have your attorney expunge certain charges and convictions from your criminal records as well. This is usually available to first-time offenders if the crime is of a less serious nature.
You should make all necessary efforts to have your criminal records sealed or expunged. Having a criminal history can have far-reaching consequences and long-term impacts on your life. For example, criminal records can severely limit your professional licensing opportunities. It may also restrict your ability to obtain federal or state assistance for business ventures or education.
You should speak with your attorney about preparing a defense that avoids a conviction altogether or take the necessary steps to have your records expunged. This is an important consideration when choosing a criminal defense law group.
When your records are expunged, the court will direct for all fingerprint cards, case records, and photographs to either be returned to you or destroyed. Additionally, public access to your records will be prohibited and any other existing case filing, including the search warrant, will be sealed. This may seem like a cumbersome process, but the benefits can be tremendous.
Possible Defense Strategies If You Have Been Charged With a Felony or Misdemeanor
If you think you or someone you love may be in legal trouble, the first thing you need to do is get in touch with a seasoned criminal defense attorney. In fact, you should not delay calling a criminal defense attorney as soon as the police contact you.
This is the best way to protect your rights. Getting the assistance of criminal defense attorneys early, even before the police have filed charges, can give you the best possible likelihood of a favorable outcome.
The defense strategy employed by a leading attorney will depend on the type of charges filed. For instance, if you are charged with battery or assault, the attorney may be able to defend you by claiming the actions were in defense of property or self-defense. They may also state that you probably would not have acted in the manner you did if you were not made to feel threatened.
The defense strategy in a burglary will be a little different. Your defense attorney might challenge the prosecution’s attempts to establish intent. If this is successful, your charges may be dropped or reduced to criminal trespassing.
Different offenses have different degrees of severity. It is at the prosecutor’s discretion to file charges in a particular criminal matter. You may be able to negotiate a plea bargain with the help of a strategy-driven attorney to get the charges reduced to a lesser offense.
It’s critical that you speak with an attorney immediately if you are charged with a felony. Only a reputable and dedicated criminal defense attorney can review your charges and determine the best possible defense strategy.
Steps to Take If You Have Been Charged With a Felony or Misdemeanor
Top-rated attorney Purav Bhatt is an award-winning criminal lawyer and a former Cook County State’s Attorney, who has an outstanding track record of success in criminal cases throughout Chicago. His single-minded dedication to his clients and a tough stand on protecting the legal rights of the accused have drawn immense respect from the law community. Led by Purav Bhatt, the team of competent and resourceful criminal defense attorneys at The Law Office of Purav Bhatt works hard to obtain the best possible outcome for our clients.
Our diligent criminal defense lawyers will passionately pursue your freedom by challenging the admissibility of evidence, questioning the reliability of witnesses, and exposing constitutional violations and police misconduct. Our attorneys will work with a singular goal to have your charges dismissed or reduced as far as possible. To speak with a criminal defense lawyer, call us at (773) 791-9682 or reach us online.