Frequently Asked Questions

What is the range of crimes in Illinois?

There are principally three types of crimes in Illinois. The most minor violation is called a petty offense. This type of violation can be punished only by the imposition of a fine, like a ticket for speeding under 30mph. The next level is a misdemeanor. In Illinois, these can range from a Class C which carries a maximum of 30 days in jail and a $1,500 fine to a Class A with a range of up to 364 days in jail and a $2,500 fine. Examples of Class C misdemeanors include possession of cannabis up to 2.5 grams. Examples of common class A misdemeanors would include Driving under the Influence of Alcohol, Possession of Drug Paraphernalia, and Battery. The third type of crime is called a felony. A felony is a serious crime that has a possible prison term of 1 year or more. The lowest level felony in Illinois is a Class 4 felony which includes offenses such as Retail Theft.  The most serious felony in Illinois is a Class X, which may have a prison term of up to 60 years. Class X felonies include Possession of Cocaine with Intent to Deliver, and Armed Robbery. While there are significant differences in penalties, the process for all felony charges is the same.

What is the process once an individual is arrested?

Following an arrest, the police agency involved must contact the State’s Attorney’s Felony Review Office. A police officer does not have the inherent authority to automatically charge someone with a felony. That decision rests solely with the State’s Attorney. The Felony Review office runs 24 hours a day 7 days a week. The State’s Attorney gathers information from the officer regarding the evidence in the case and the defendant’s criminal history. In some cases the Attorney conducts an interview of the defendant. After conducting his own review of the case and the evidence the State’s Attorney then decides if felony charges are proper. If the State’s Attorney believes the evidence is insufficient or the circumstances do not call for a felony, and felony charges are rejected. If the State’s Attorney rejects felony charges, the police do have the authority to still file misdemeanor charges. These charges are sent to court and the defendant is processed by the police for the felony. At this point the charges are outlined in a document called an information and the defendant is held for a bond hearing.

What is a bond hearing?

Constitutional safeguards guarantee that the rights of the accused will afford that individual to be brought before a judge within 72 hours of the arrest in order for a bond hearing to be held. The bond court judge hears the charges and some basic facts related to the case. The bond court judge is also provided with the criminal history of the defendant. Attorneys for the defendant make a presentation on his behalf. This generally relates to elements of the person’s life. These can include: age, education, family situation, work history and resources for posting bond. After hearing from both sides the judge decides the terms of the defendant’s release, whether it is by personal recognizance (I-Bond) or by posting with the court an amount of money (D-Bond). After the bond is set, the defendant only needs to post 10% of the mandated amount to be released from jail.

What is the difference between an expungement and a sealing?

Expungement is a court procedure in which a person who has been arrested petitions the court in the county where the case was filed for the destruction or return of all records pertaining to his or her case. Typically, an order granting the expungement petition is directed to the arresting police agency, the Illinois State Police, and the circuit court clerk of the county in which the case was brought. Records expunged can include fingerprints, mug shots, and other records of identification, and are either destroyed or returned to the petitioner. Sealing is a court procedure that seals court and police records. The records are not destroyed or returned, but are put “under seal,” meaning they are not accessible by employers, members of the general public, or most public entities. Law enforcement officials have access to the records. The procedure for obtaining a court order to seal records is identical to the expungement procedure.

What can be expunged and/or sealed?

An expungement is available only where the final outcome of a case, often referred to as the “disposition,” is something other than a conviction. A conviction may be designated by various names, including “conditional discharge,” or “probation,” or “time considered served,” or simply a guilty finding or guilty verdict. The relevant fact is that when a conviction has been entered, the defendant at that point has a “criminal record.” While a conviction cannot be expunged, it can in some instances be “sealed.” Certain first-time offenses under the Cannabis Control Act, Control Substances Act, Steroid Control Act, and Alcohol and Drug Dependency Act offenses are also expungeable. Expungement is not available for a Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol offense, even where an order of court supervision was entered in the case, nor is it available to persons who have been previously convicted of a criminal offense or municipal ordinance violation, ordinary traffic tickets, orders of protection, or civil orders or judgments.

What do police officers look for when arresting someone for driving under the influence of alcohol?

A driver can be pulled over for any driving violation, such as improper lane usage, speeding, or driving erratically. Such stops constitute “probable cause.” Once the officer stops the vehicle, he will look for clues of intoxication. Specifically, odor of alcohol, bloodshot and/or glassy eyes, slurred speech, or fumbling while retrieving a driver’s license. If the officer observes signs of intoxication, the driver will be asked out of the vehicle to perform field sobriety tests and a portable breath test. There is no penalty for refusing all field sobriety tests or the portable breath test. 

What happens if I refuse the breathalyzer exam at the police station after being placed under arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol?

Once a driver is placed under arrest and taken to the station, he will be given the opportunity to take another breath test known as a breathalyzer. Unlike the portable breath test, the results of the breathalyzer are admissible in court. Also unlike the portable breath test, there is a penalty of a suspension of driving privileges for refusing the breathalyzer. When an individual gets arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, they are subject to a statutory summary suspension of their driver’s license. The length of the statutory summary suspension will depend on whether the driver complied with the officer’s request for the breathalyzer test. Acquiescing to the officer’s request will reduce the potential statutory summary suspension to 6 months, compared to the 12 month suspension for refusal. (Note: The suspension periods are greater for repeat offenders).

If I am arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, does that mean I cannot drive while the case is still pending?

Not necessarily. You are only unable to drive once the Statutory Summary Suspension takes effect, which begins the 46th day following the date of the arrest. However, if the suspension gets rescinded you will be able to drive throughout the litigation of the criminal case. Even if the suspension does not get rescinded, an individual who has not had a summary suspension within the last 5 years is eligible to receive a Monitoring Device Driving Permit (“MDDP”) and drive with a Breath Alcohol Ignition Interlock Device (“BAIID”). This will give an individual the ability to drive anywhere at any time after serving a 30 day period with no driving relief.  However, a conviction on the DUI charge will result in a revocation of your driving privileges.

I drive a commercial motor vehicle, are the traffic laws stricter for commercial driver’s licenses?

Yes they are. In Illinois you can be disqualified from driving a commercial motor vehicle for repeated serious traffic violations committed in a commercial motor vehicle. Serious traffic violations include reckless driving, speeding 15mph or more over the speed limit, improper passing, following too closely, and many others.