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Frequently Asked Questions About Illinois Criminal Law

I have been charged with a crime in Illinois. How do I know if it is a felony or misdemeanor and what can I expect?

Usually it is on the arrest report and it certainly will be told to you by the police officer. In Illinois, crimes for which a person may be punished by more than one year in prison are categorized as felonies. Misdemeanors carry a maximum punishment of a fine and less than one year in jail. Under Illinois law many crimes are misdemeanors on the first offense, but become felonies on the second offense. For example, shoplifting is considered a misdemeanor in Illinois, so long as the value of the property taken does not exceed $300. However, if a person has already been convicted of shoplifting and is arrested again for a similar action, that person will be charged with a felony. In Illinois, your rights differ depending on whether you have been charged with a felony or a misdemeanor. For example, if you have been charged with a felony, you have the right to have an attorney appointed for you in the event you cannot afford one. These nuances make it important for you to consult a criminal defense attorney as soon as you have been convicted of a crime.

After I was arrested I made a statement to the police confessing to a crime. Do I have no other choice but to plead guilty, or is there something an attorney can do to help me?

In a situation like this, we highly recommend that you consult with an attorney because we never suggest that someone just plead guilty to a crime. Your attorney will evaluate the situation and look into the circumstances surrounding your confession. Oftentimes, confessions are taken by the police not in accordance with the law. If this is the case, then your attorney may be able to get your confession thrown out entirely. Even if the attorney is not able to throw out your confession, they will negotiate with the prosecutor and achieve the best result possible. Every day in Illinois people who have admitted to crimes have their charges dropped because they hired the right attorney.

I was charged with battery but I was really just defending myself. What do I have to do to prove I was acting in self-defense?

You must prove that you reasonably believed it was necessary to defend yourself or a third person from the unlawful use of force by another. The amount of force you may exert against the other person is what you reasonably believe is necessary to defend yourself or another person. You cannot claim self-defense if you were the original aggressor unless you stopped using force and the other person continued using force.

I was charged with a crime but I was so drunk that I really do not remember doing it. Can I use intoxication as a defense?

It depends if you were charged with a general intent or specific intent crime. That said, it's not a great defense to a criminal charge or everyone would use it. For most crimes you don't have to mean to commit a crime to be charged. For example, if you are so drunk that you go in to someone else's house thinking it was yours, the fact that you were intoxicated would be legally irrelevant.

What does the prosecution have to do in order to convict me of the crime I was charged with?

In criminal cases, the prosecution has the burden of proof to demonstrate that the defendant committed the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Beyond a reasonable doubt is considered synonymous to "a moral certainty." Through fair and thorough consideration of the admissible facts in a case, the judge or jury must be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of each element of the crime in order to convict the defendant. The defendant is not required to prove their innocence because the burden of proof lies with the prosecution. All the defendant has to argue is that the prosecution has failed to prove their case.

What is your best advice if the police want to interview me about a crime?

Say nothing. As the old saying goes, anything you say can and will be used against you. Politely decline to answer any questions even if they pressure you to answer. Nothing they want to know today is so urgent that it can't be answered tomorrow while a lawyer is there to protect you.

What does it mean when someone is declared incompetent to stand trial?

Incompetent to stand trial refers to a person's mindset at the time of trial. A person may not be tried, convicted, or sentenced if, as a result of a mental disease or defect, he is unable: to understand the nature of the proceedings being brought against him; or to assist the lawyer in the preparation of his or her defense. If a person is declared incompetent to stand trial, that person will usually be committed and the trial will not proceed until that person regains competence.

How do I choose the right criminal defense lawyer?

Everyone's situation and needs are different and unique, so there is no one size fits all solution. That is why it is important to do your research on every lawyer you are considering. We recommend that you find a lawyer that concentrates in the area of defense you need, regularly appears in the court where you have been charged and can demonstrate a track record of success with these cases. If you would like our help in finding an experienced attorney for your unique situation please do not hesitate to contact us. All calls are free and confidential. We have been helping people find the right lawyer for their cases since 2001 and have a state-wide network of experienced, aggressive and well connected lawyers.