Chicago Probation, Conditional Discharge & Court Supervision

You have been charged with a criminal offense, and whether it is a misdemeanor or a felony, there is a potential jail sentence that may be imposed. If it was a misdemeanor, except for cases involving domestic violence, chances are that you were released from the station with a piece of paper, referred to as your "bond slip" which has your court appearance information, etc. on it.

If it was a felony, you were likely held overnight for a bond hearing before a Judge. At the bond hearing, the Judge informed you of the offense(s) being charged, and the maximum penalties applicable, meaning a prison term, and a large fine, or both. If you were released on the misdemeanor at the station, it is likely you did not know the offense was punishable by jail until you began to speak to attorneys about your case.

Scared? It's OK to be, as that is a normal reaction. Panic? Don't, because there are alternatives to the maximum penalties, and a knowledgeable Chicago criminal defense attorney can assist you in achieving a favorable result applicable to your individual circumstances.

Potential Jail or Penitentiary Time in Chicago

In Illinois, the Criminal Code provides for felonies, misdemeanors, petty offenses and business offenses. A felony is defined as any offense that carries a potential term of imprisonment in the Department of Corrections (DOC) of one year or more. A misdemeanor is any offense that carries a possible jail term in a county jail of one day to 364 days. Petty and business offenses are those punishable by a fine only, with no term of incarceration.

With some exceptions, where prison or jail time is "mandatory" by statute, most offenses are eligible for some alternative sentence. In Illinois, we have "probation", "conditional discharge" and "supervision." There are also some special forms of probation that will be discussed herein, that are more similar to a supervision sentence than a probationary sentence in that they may not be deemed a "conviction" for court purposes.

Sentencing and Convictions in Chicago

Sentencing rules are convoluted, which is to say, they are detailed, sometimes contradictory, and can be very confusing to even the most experienced attorney at times. Virtually every "rule" has an exception, and the exceptions have exceptions. It can make your head spin, trying to make sense of it all, so let us help you to understand what other options may be available to keep you safely out of jail or prison.

Of the three forms of dispositions above, only supervision, and the certain special forms of probation including those under Sections 550/10 (related to cannabis violations), 570/410 (related to narcotics and ,methamphetamines, and "Second Chance Probation" under 730 ILCS 5/5-6-3.4, will not result in a record of conviction. Supervision, and these three types of probation, involve a finding of guilt after a trial, or upon a plea of guilty, and the Court, rather than entering a judgment of conviction, defers the proceedings to a future date. If all of the conditions of the supervision or special probation are met, the Court enters an order discharging the person without adjudication of guilt, and the proceedings are then "dismissed." Successful completion resulting in a discharge means that the matter cannot be used by anyone to deny an individual that to which he may otherwise be entitled to, such as operating a motor vehicle, voting, obtaining certain employment, etc.

Supervision and Special Forms of Probation

Generally, a felony charge cannot be disposed of by a sentence of court supervision as it is prohibited, and the special probations mentioned above apply in limited felony cases. For example, Section 550/10 probation is only available to persons charged with a misdemeanor, and Class 4 felony cannabis violations. Section 570/410 probation is only available to those charged with simple possession of controlled substances in small quantities, e.g. less than 15 grams of heroin or cocaine. "Second Chance Probation" is only available to persons not previously convicted of a felony, or having previously had the benefit of Section 550/10 or 570/410 probation, charged with non-violent offenses, and who have no prior convictions for "violent offenses" as defined by statute, which also include DUI offenses among others one might not expect to find in the definition.

So, the way it works is this. You were found guilty, and sentenced to court supervision on a misdemeanor, or one of the above forms of probation on either a felony, or some misdemeanors as well. Although no Judgment was yet entered on the finding, you have the same right to pursue an appeal as if you were incarcerated or otherwise convicted. You have conditions to comply with, such as payment of fines and costs, refraining from illegal activity, possessing no deadly weapons/firearms without a valid FOID card, attending any counseling or treatment programs as directed by the court, avoiding contact with any alleged victim(s), attending school, obtaining a GED, vocational training, submitting to random drug/alcohol screens, performing public service work, etc.

At the end of your supervision/drug or 1st offender probation, if you have fully complied with the conditions, the Court enters an order terminating the sentence and discharging you from the case. Such a discharge has the same legal affect as a dismissal or acquittal of the charge, in that it is NOT a criminal conviction, and does not take away one's rights that otherwise might enjoy. For example, in Illinois, a conviction for even the first offense DUI case will result in the mandatory revocation of driving privileges for a minimum of one year for the first conviction, requiring one to go through an administrative hearing process to obtain reinstatement. Supervision does not result in any revocation of privileges if it is terminated successfully.

Conditional Discharge

Conditional Discharge (C/D) can be confusing to some people, because the name seems to imply that the case will be dismissed at the end of the performance of the conditions. Not so; C/D is considered a conviction like probation or a period of jail/penitentiary time. In fact, one can loosely refer to C/D as "Non-Reporting Probation." The major difference between C/D and probation is this: when one is on probation, they are assigned a Probation Officer, who can monitor 24/7, who can show up at your place of employment, search your home or office without a warrant, require you to sign releases that will allow them to obtain sensitive medical and/or psychological records, require you to submit to random urinalysis if warranted and a host of other conditions.

On C/D, there is no Probation Officer, you are instead assigned a "Social Worker" who will monitor you from their office, they will not show up at your house or job, and they have you report by appointment, or by phone or mail, as scheduled. You can still have any or all of the standard conditions of probation, just with less oversight. On that DUI case, if it is a second or subsequent offense, supervision is not an option, and C/D is typically the sentence on a second offense, resulting in a revocation of driving privileges.

Probation Sentencing in Chicago

Probation is the last step before jail or prison. It is available as a sentence in all but certain cases including: First degree murder, any Class X felony, and any Class 1 felony where the offender was already on Probation for any other felony offense. It is also prohibited in some specific circumstances, such as the delivery of, or possession with intent to distribute, an amount of cocaine or heroin no less than 5 grams, up to 15 (where the offense is a Class 1 felony with a mandatory prison term of between 4 to 15 years).

A diligent attorney will always double check, whether or not in doubt, to see if a specific offense may have some prohibition to probation. As of this writing, class 1 or 2 felonies can be disposed of by a period of probation not to exceed 4 years, and Class 3 or 4 felonies have a maximum period of 30 months. Generally, misdemeanors are able to receive up to 24 months (2 years) probation. These limitations apply to C/D as well. Petty offenses can receive up to 6 months of probation, C/D or up to 24 months of supervision; business offenses can only receive C/D or supervision.

Among the standard conditions of probation, aside from reporting to the officer as required, and complying with all reasonable directives of the officer, are (and this is not all inclusive):

  • Do not violate any laws or any jurisdiction
  • Do not possess firearms, ammunition, or other deadly weapons
  • Refrain from use of drugs and/or alcohol
  • Submit to random testing of blood or urine
  • Pay fines, fees, costs as directed, pay restitution
  • Perform public service work
  • Get a GED or other High School equivalency
  • Seek gainful employment
  • Support one's dependents
  • Obtain medical/psychiatric care as needed
  • Live in a home designated for probationers, such as a "halfway house" etc.

Successful completion will lead to the discharge from probation, but that is still a conviction for purposes of one's record. Normally, one must serve the entire term of one's probation, except where the Judge specifically finds that it is in the interests of justice to release a probationer early, in the Judge's discretion. However, Illinois does have a special type of probation where early termination is the goal: the Probation Challenge Program under 730 ILCS 5/5-6-3.2. In that program, if an offender shows promise that they will indeed comply with their conditions of probation in a timely manner, and is especially motivated to do so, they can perform extra layers of conditions to their probation involving a special officer/coordinator to report to.

Once the underlying conditions have been met, the Court may then enter an order terminating and discharging the probation early, upon a finding that it is in the best interests of the probationer and to the ends of justice. It is unclear why this is even necessary, seeing as a Judge has the power to terminate a sentence of probation early, in his/her own discretion, other than to motivate swift compliance of conditions in hopes of early release.

Contact a Chicago Criminal Lawyer Who Understands Sentencing Alternatives

If you are charged with any criminal offense in Chicago, you are facing the full weight, might and authority of the government, which has all the resources it needs to prosecute you, and possibly convict you. What stands between you and that fate? A dedicated, resourceful, attorney that knows the law, knows the courts, and knows how to fight for your rights. The lawyers at Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC work tirelessly to protect you, and to obtain results. Call us at (800) 996-4824 for a free consultation right away!

Written by Mitchell S. Sexner Last Updated : June 24, 2020