A new Illinois Unlawful Use of a Weapon law (UUW) takes effect in 2018 regarding Illinois criminal gun charges. Non-violent first offenders of Unlawful Use of Weapon or Aggravated Unlawful Use of Weapon under the age of 21 will get a new alternative sentencing program designed to help them rehabilitate. Repeat offenders, on the other hand, will face harsher minimum sentences (covered in Illinois Gun Crime Reloaded, Part 2). The Illinois criminal defense attorneys at Fagan, Fagan & Davis can help assess your eligibility.
The First Time Weapon Offender Program
For now, let's take a look at the new program for first offenders under the age of 21. This part of the new Illinois criminal law is a very positive step for those who qualify, creating an alternative sentence that can avoid prison time and avoid a conviction from being entered on the record. There are many restrictions that limit application to the program. Most significantly, the defendant must be under 21 years old and cannot have had a conviction or “delinquent minor” judgment for a violent crime. Also, the UUW is ineligible for diversion if charged alongside a count alleging a crime of violence. Both the defendant and the State's Attorney must consent to apply for the program, and the defendant must then submit a plea of guilty and application to the Court for sentencing under the First Time Weapon Offender Program. The Court then weighs factors including the age of the defendant, the nature of the offense, and other circumstances against the risk to public safety. The presentation of these factors will be a key focus for Illinois Criminal Defense attorneys seeking this sentence for first time gun offenders. There is no formula assigning weight to any one factor over the others, so each judge may balance them differently, and a judge may even balance these factors differently from case to case. Additionally, experienced criminal defense attorneys can and should offer any available supporting circumstances for the consideration of the judge. Striking the “just right” sympathetic chord with the judge could be the difference between jail time and the new program.
How it works
The program itself is a relatively straightforward diversion using a probation-like structure to foster rehabilitation. The programs lasts for between 18 and 24 months. During that time, the defendant must not violate any criminal laws (in Illinois or elsewhere) and will be subject to random drug testing. The defendant is required to attempt to obtain employment, and attend courses toward a high school diploma, high school equivalency, or vocational training. Community service is a program requirement – a minimum of 50 hours. The program may also require residence at a facility, counseling, check-ins, educational classes, psychiatric treatment, and even GPS ankle bracelet monitoring, among other restrictions at the discretion of the program director.
The Payoff . . . and the Risk
As intense as the program sounds, it provides a clearly preferable alternative to prison for those who are eligible. Successful completion of the program will result in a dismissal of the gun charge, although participation in the program will be available as an aggravating factor in sentencing in the event of a violent criminal conviction occurring in the following 5 years after completion. In other words, the fact that a defendant was afforded this opportunity but later reoffended can be considered within the following 5 years, even if the program resulted in successful completion.
The program's requirements are narrow, the terms strict, and failure to fulfill any part of it could result in a conviction. However, this is a chance – think of it as a limited time offer – for non-violent first-time gun offenders to avoid a prison sentence and the resulting difficulties to employment and more. This special program is a “pilot program” that will expire on January 1, 2023 absent any further legislation.
Contact the law firm of Fagan, Fagan & Davis now for a free consultation if you or a loved one face UUW or AUUW charges in Illinois.
-this post was prepared with assistance of Northern Illinois Law School Student Avi Fagan