In 2013, the Illinois Supreme Court held in People v. Aguilar that the laws regarding certain firearms possession was unconstitutional under the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Since then, the General Assembly has enacted firearm related laws that provide for sterner punishments to counter the decision in Aguilar.

However, in a deviation from this recent trend, they have also enacted a more lenient punishment for those who do violate firearm laws as they are on the books, albeit for a limited time. In 2018, the First Time Weapon Offender Program will go into effect for five years.

The First Time Weapon Offender Program will allow certain individuals to be granted a special type of probation for a violation of the Unlawful Use of Weapon/Aggravated Unlawful Use of Weapon laws. With the consent of the State’s Attorney’s Office, an individual can be placed into the Program, which is similar to certain types of Drug Probation. The main benefit in these types of programs are that, if the program is successfully completed, no entry of conviction would be entered against the individual and they would be eligible to expunge the arrest and case history from their background in the future. These benefits are not available under normal Probation.

The General Assembly recognized that some individuals charged for weapons violations grow up in areas of high crime and poverty and, as a result of their upbringing, make poor decisions in unlawfully possessing a firearm. The General Assembly’s recognition of this is evident in the eligibility requirements for the Program. To qualify for the Program, an individual must:

  • Not have possessed the weapon during the commission of a violent offense
  • Not have been previously convicted of any violent offense in the past, whether as an adult or a juvenile
  • Not have been placed in the Program in the past
  • Be 21 years old or younger
  • Not have an existing Order of Protection against them
  • Be charged with a Class 4 Felony or lower firearms offense

If placed in the Program, which would last between 18 to 24 months, an individual must adhere to the following conditions:

  • Refrain from violating any criminal law
  • Refrain from possessing a firearm or dangerous weapon
  • Obtain or attempt to obtain employment
  • Obtain a high school diploma or GED or complete a vocational training program
  • Refrain from consuming any illegal drug
  • Perform at least 50 hours of community service
  • Attend any counseling sessions or educational classes as required by the Program Administrator
  • Pay all fines and fees

The above requirements are just the statutory minimum. An individual may also be required to wear a GPS tracking device, undergo medical/psychiatric treatment or reside in a half-way house.

It is important to note that the Program is not guaranteed. First, as previously discussed, the State’s Attorney’s Office must consent to the Program. Next, a Court may reject placing an individual in the Program. The Court can consider the totality of the circumstances surrounding the individual and their arrest. If, for instance, the weapons possession occurred while an individual was delivering a controlled substance/cannabis, a Court may determine that the risk to the public far outweighs the benefits of placing an individual in the Program.

It would be wise for someone charged with a weapons violation to retain an experienced attorney. Given the tough stance prosecutors have had regarding firearms possession, it is likely that prosecutors will be hesitant to consent to the placement of an individual into the Program.

An experienced attorney may be the push a defendant needs to overcome this hurdle and be placed into the Program, especially if the circumstances surrounding the arrest are less than favorable for the individual. Contact our law office at 708-966-2408 for a free consultation.

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