The felony charge sits just below terrorism and treason when ranking the criminal offenses that are known in the Chicago statues. It is a step up from the misdemeanor and carries a lot of serious consequences for the defendant including the loss of their liberty and a debilitating criminal record. As a rule of thumb, an offense becomes a felony if it is capable of attracting a punishment that exceeds one year in jail. Some jurisdictions have gone as far as setting mandatory sentencing for certain felonies in order to control the court process in such a way as not to dent public confidence in the system. Others have classified obsolete felonies as being non-prosecutable.
There is considerable public debate as to whether the classification of felonies is appropriate for this century. For a start, the idea of a permanent criminal record might sound good in terms of retribution and public safety. However, the reality is that people who are unable to find work will inevitably turn back to crime, which means that the vicious circle will never end. Nevertheless, the trial judge tends to take into consideration a number of factors at the sentence hearing including:
- Previous known criminality,
- Seriousness of the charge,
- Impact on the victim,
- Aggravating features and
- Mitigating features.
Levels of Court Discretion
As certain jurisdictions have sought to restrict the discretion that judges have in these cases, there has been concern about fairness. Mandatory sentencing is a case in point in as far as it has led to significant custody sentences for non-violent offenders. A legislature writing laws in the heat of debate is not quite in the same position as a sober judge trying to handle serious public safety issues whilst offering the offender a chance for rehabilitation. The range of available punishments for felony convictions is quite wide in order to reflect the complexity of the crime. These may include probation, fines, life imprisonment, indeterminate imprisonment, determinate imprisonment, registration on at-risk lists, and loss of driving privileges.
Nevertheless, there are secondary and less direct consequences of a felony conviction including a permanent criminal record, limits on employability, the repeat offender sentencing guidelines that are unusually harsh, limitations on residence/travel, and restraining orders. Because of all these serious consequences, defending attorneys should always try to reduce a felony to a misdemeanor charge wherever possible. Of course, there are certain offenses which automatically become felonies and could never be considered misdemeanors including murder, rape, kidnapping, and armed robbery.
Classification of Felonies
There is a rigid classification of felonies in Chicago as follows:
- Class 4: Penalty of 1-3 years’ imprisonment
- Class 3: Penalty of 2-5 years’ imprisonment
- Class 2: Penalty of 3-7 years’ imprisonment
- Class 1: Penalty of 4-15 years’ imprisonment
- Class X: Penalty of 6-30 years’ imprisonment
You may notice that some of the categorizations overlap and it is up to the trial judge to find a happy medium that delivers acceptable levels justice.
A High Standard of Proof
Under the US Constitution and the provisions of 720 ILCS 5/25-1, probable case is not sufficient to convict. Instead the jury must meet the reasonable doubt threshold which is a much tougher proposition. The prosecutors understand this so they often offer plea bargains to cases where the evidence is not particularly strong. Defending teams are particularly skillful at challenging circumstance evidence or evidence that has been obtained through illegal means such as torture. More importantly, defendants are generally not obliged to incriminate themselves. In reality, the defendants often do, particularly in those first few post-arrest days when they are in a real panic. That is precisely the time when the services of an experienced defense attorney are critical. If you are facing a felony, call David Freidberg Attorney at Law immediately at 312-560-7100 to get an expert lawyer on your case.
(image courtesy of Rachel Paprocki)