What is the Difference Between a Misdemeanor and a Felony?
Misdemeanors, felonies, and petty offenses are all different categories of crimes in Illinois. They are classified based on how serious they are. It is important to know what you are charged with, as this will usually determine what actions you should take in your case. The severity of the charge can affect your decisions concerning things such as whether you will take a plea deal or not, and your decisions can affect how it will ultimately look on your criminal record, whether it will be expungable and how much a lawyer may charge in order to represent you in court on your case. The more informed you are about your charges, the better the decisions you will be able to make.
Petty Offenses in Illinois
The least serious type of offense that you can be charged with in Illinois is a petty offense. A petty offense in Illinois is an offense which is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 (plus court costs, fees and assessments) and for which a sentence of imprisonment is not a potential outcome. So, no matter had bad your criminal record is, and even if the police officer buts in a “bad word” about you with the judge or prosecutor, you still can’t go to jail. Also, if the court finds that the fine would impose an undue financial hardship on the person receiving it, the court may decide to reduce the fine or waive it entirely.
A sentence of conditional discharge or probation may be imposed in addition to a fine for a petty offense. The main difference between supervision and probation is that supervision will not be entered as a conviction if the offender completes everything required by the court, whereas probation will appear as a conviction on your record even if all the court requirements are completed successfully. If the court imposes a sentence of probation on a petty offense in Illinois, it should not exceed six months. If a court imposes a supervision sentence on a petty offense in Illinois, it should not exceed two years.
Some examples of petty offenses in Illinois are: failure to wear a seat belt, running a red light or stop sign, and driving with a license expired for less than one year.
What’s the Difference Between a Misdemeanor and a Felony in Illinois?
Most criminal charges in Illinois fall into two separate categories: a misdemeanor or a felony. The main difference between these two charges is that a misdemeanor will always carry with it a possible sentence of less than a year in jail. A felony, on the other hand, will always carry with it a possible sentence of more than a year in the penitentiary. The statute of limitations (the timeframe in which the prosecution is allowed to bring the case) for a misdemeanor in Illinois is 18 months. The statute of limitations for most felonies in Illinois is 36 months. Felonies can result in the loss of certain privileges that misdemeanants will ordinarily not be affected by. For example, a felony could affect your: voting rights, ability to own a firearm, child custody, ability to work in certain job fields like government, and ability to participate in welfare programs. Certain crimes can sometimes be elevated from a misdemeanor to a felony (such as battery, DUI, driving on a suspended license or retail theft) if they happen more than once or if there are aggravating factors present (facts that make the crime more serious in the eyes of the law).
Misdemeanor Offenses in Illinois
In Illinois, a crime is treated as a misdemeanor if it is punishable by less than a year in a local or county jail. Illinois has three tiered classes of misdemeanors: A, B, and C. Class A misdemeanors are the most serious, and class C misdemeanors are the least serious.
Class A Misdemeanors
A class A misdemeanor is the most serious misdemeanor you can be charged with, whether in Chicago or elsewhere in Illinois. It is punishable by up to 364 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,500.
Class B Misdemeanors
A class B misdemeanor is punishable by up to 180 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,500.
Some examples of a class B misdemeanor in Illinois are Criminal Trespass to Land and aggravated speeding 26 to 24 miles over the limit.
Class C Misdemeanor
A class C misdemeanor is the least serious misdemeanor offense you can be charged with in Illinois. It is one step above a petty offense. A class C misdemeanor is punishable by up to 30 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,500.
Some examples of a class C misdemeanor in Illinois are disorderly conduct and assault.
The above listed misdemeanor penalties are the maximum available for these types of misdemeanor charges. But along with such penalties, anyone who is found guilty or pleads guilty to a crime must receive a sentence as well. In some cases, the sentence is a “straight conviction” which both begins and ends on the same day of sentencing. But for most others, the sentence is one of the following:
- Probation: For a misdemeanor in Illinois, you could be sentenced to a maximum of two years’ probation. You will then have to regularly meet and talk with a probation officer and abide by all the conditions of your probation (which will always include not getting charged with another offense). These conditions could also include random drug tests and classes you must attend. Probation is a conviction on your record regardless of whether you successfully complete the terms of probation or not.
- Conditional Discharge: Your misdemeanor charge could also result in a sentence of conditional discharge. Conditional discharge is like probation, but the monitoring is done by the courts rather than by a probation officer. That is why it is sometimes called “non-reporting probation.” Conditional discharge will often require a defendant to directly report to the court through a social services officer (or sometimes no reporting at all is required. No probation officer will show up at your house, and you will instead travel to see your social services worker or report by phone, if one is assigned to your case. A defendant will not be allowed to possess a firearm or violate any additional criminal statutes. Fines, treatment and/or other requirements may be imposed as well, just like for a probation. Unlike court supervision, conditional discharge will appear as a conviction on your criminal record.
- Court Supervision: Court supervision is a type of deferred judgment that will not appear as a conviction on your record. Basically, the court will enter a judgment against a defendant and then “continue” the case for a period of time. While the case is being continued, the court will ask a defendant to do certain things which may include such things as community service and/or taking certain classes. Obviously, you cannot get in trouble again during the length of your court supervision. If you do everything the court asks you to do and you do not get another charge, there will be no further punishment nor conviction entered on your record and the charge will be successfully terminated at the end of the supervision period. If you violate the terms of your supervision, the judge can vacate the supervision sentence and enter a conviction on your record instead.
Some misdemeanor sentences carry mandatory minimum fines or mandatory community service at a non-profit business as well.
But “It’s Only a Misdemeanor!”
Misdemeanors are not to be taken lightly. Some clients believe that because a charge is not a felony, it will not affect their future. This is incorrect for many reasons. Misdemeanors can take away your freedom, valuable employment prospects, and negatively affect your living situation down the road if they are not handled correctly by an experienced lawyer. They will appear on background checks and can cause serious damage to your life, reputation, and job prospects.
Felony Offenses in Illinois
In Illinois, a felony offense is the most serious type of charge one can receive. A felony is punishable by at least a year in prison or the penitentiary. Felonies in Illinois are also based on a tiered system like misdemeanors.
If an offender is found guilty or pleads guilty to a felony in Illinois, the judge will either impose:
- A determinate sentence of years in state prison;
- Probation/conditional release (not allowed for certain felonies, including class X felonies); or
- Periodic imprisonment (often called “work release” where a defendant goes to jail at nights and weekends only and works during the day).
- In some circumstances, and usually requiring the agreement of the prosecutor, some felonies may be eligible for a special deferred or alternative sentence that might result in a non-conviction or dismissal of the criminal charge if completed successfully.
Every sentence resulting in penitentiary time will also include a term of mandatory supervised release where certain conditions must be met (formerly called “parole”).
Class 4 Felonies
A class four felony is the least serious felony a defendant can be charged with in Illinois. A class four felony in Illinois is punishable by either:
- Between 1 and 3 years in prison, plus one year of supervised release;
- A term of up to 18 months of periodic imprisonment; or
- Up to 30 months of probation or conditional release.
An example of a class 4 felony in Illinois is stalking. The maximum fine for a class four felony in Illinois is generally $25,000.
Class 3 Felonies
A class three felony in Illinois is punishable by either:
- Between 2 and 5 years in prison, plus one year of supervised release;
- A term of up to 18 months of periodic imprisonment; or
- Up to 30 months of probation or conditional release.
An example of a class 3 felony in Illinois is possession of less than five grams of methamphetamine. The maximum fine for a class three felony in Illinois is generally $25,000.
Class 2 Felonies
A class two felony in Illinois is punishable by either:
- Between three and seven years in prison, plus up to two years of mandatory supervised release;
- A period of between 18 and 30 months of periodic imprisonment; or
- Up to four years of probation or conditional release.
An example of a class 2 felony in Illinois is robbery. The maximum fine for a class two felony in Illinois is generally $25,000.
Class 1 Felonies
A class one felony in Illinois is punishable by either:
- Between four and fifteen years in prison, plus two years of mandatory supervised release (with the exception of second-degree murder, which carries a range of between 4 years and 20 years).
- A sentence of periodic imprisonment between 3 to 4 years; or
- A sentence of probation or conditional discharge of up to four years (unless the class one felony was committed while serving probation for a previous felony, then no probation or conditional discharge will be available to a defendant).
An example of a class one felony in Illinois is criminal sexual assault. The maximum fine for a class one felony in Illinois is $25,000.
Class X Felonies
A class X felony is the second most serious felony in Illinois, only behind first-degree murder. If a defendant is found guilty of a class X felony, the court cannot sentence the defendant to probation. This means that a judge must sentence the defendant to a term of imprisonment on a class X felony. The only way a defendant has any hope of getting probation is if the prosecution negotiates with the defendant to amend the charge to a lower felony which is eligible for probation. This does not always happen, and the prosecution often will have a more powerful bargaining position when there is a class X charge at stake. A class X felony in Illinois is punishable by:
- A mandatory sentence of between 6 to 30 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections, in addition to a term of mandatory supervised release of three years.
An example of a class X felony in Illinois is home invasion. The maximum fine for a class X felony in Illinois is generally $25,000.
In Illinois, first degree murder is its own special class of felony, often called a “class M” felony. A first-degree murder felony in Illinois is punishable by between:
- 20 to 60 years in the penitentiary with three years of mandatory supervised release.
It is important to remember that a court may impose additional prison time on felony charges in Illinois that will exceed the normal maximum penalty if certain aggravating factors are present. These factors will include:
- Heinous or brutal conduct
- The age or disability status of the victim
- The proximity of the crime to a school or house of worship
- The defendant’s prior criminal record
The most common scenario where a defendant will receive extended term sentencing eligibility is when a Defendant has his sentencing range enhanced based on receiving a felony of the same or greater offense class within the past 10 years.
If you are extended term eligible, the court may give you a sentence which greatly exceeds the maximum penalty listed in the statute.
The extended term sentencing extends the various felony sentences as follows:
- Class 4 Felony: Regular sentence: 1-3 years. Extended term sentence: 3-6 years.
- Class 3 Felony: Regular sentence: 2-5 years. Extended term sentence: 5-10 years.
- Class 2 Felony: Regular sentence: 3-7 years. Extended term sentence: 7-14 years.
- Class 1 Felony: Regular sentence: 4-15 years. Extended term sentence: 15-30 years.
- Class X Felony: Regular sentence: 6-30 years. Extended term sentence: 30-60 years.
- Murder: Regular sentence: 20-60 years. Extended term sentence: 60-100 years.
Speak to our Experienced Criminal Sentencing Attorneys
Understanding what you are charged with and the potential consequences for that charge is crucial. If you find yourself being prosecuted for a criminal charge in Illinois, you need the experienced Chicago criminal defense attorneys at Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC to guide you every step of the way. Call us today at (312) 644-0444 to schedule a free consultation right away. We are always ready to help you fight your case and defend your freedom, no matter what the charge.