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Illinois Legislative Committee Expected to Announce Gun Sentencing Reforms

Posted on in Criminal Defense

gun sentencing guidelines, Kane County criminal lawyerCriminal sentencing is one of the most debated topics in criminal law. At its heart, the idea is to calibrate a sentence to the crime's severity. This is why murder has a more severe punishment than theft. In the past, judges had a large amount of freedom in determining the sentences for a crime, but people began to grow concerned that this was unfair to offenders. Different people were getting different sentences for similar crimes. Consequently, the legislatures began prescribing more and more specific sentences for crimes.

Unfortunately, these more specific sentences have led to their own problems, and now more people are calling for sentencing reform. To that end, the Illinois General Assembly created the Joint Criminal Justice Reform Committee to review current sentencing laws and make recommendations to places that they ought to be changed. Soon, the Committee is expected to announce a set of recommendations for reforming sentences for gun crimes.

The Reason for Reform

The reason these reforms are needed comes down to the unexpected effects of mandatory minimum sentencing rules. These are rules that require judges to hand down a minimum sentence if the defendant is found guilty. Originally, these were hailed as protecting both the public and defendants. The public could be sure that overly lenient judges were not letting dangerous offenders off easy, and defendants could be sure that their sentence was the result of careful thought rather than the whim and values of whichever judge happened to hear their case.

These rules had the unintended consequence of shifting a lot of power towards the prosecutors in a case. Now that sentences are more closely tied to a specific charge, prosecutors can use the threat of more serious charges in negotiations to get defendants to plead guilty. The fear of risking a more serious sentence if the case goes against them makes defendants plead guilty to less serious charges. This can result in defendants losing procedural protections that they would be entitled to at trial, as well as innocent defendants pleading guilty out of fear.

The Expected Recommendations

In order to remedy this situation, the Committee is expected to announce reforms to the current mandatory minimum structure, at least for gun crimes. Although nothing has yet been finalized, one plan that they have been considering is to increase mandatory minimums for more severe offenses, while providing judges with a safety valve. That safety valve would allow judges to hand down a sentence below the mandatory minimum, if they were willing to go on the record in court and explain why they felt that the offender deserved a less serious sentence. This plan would provide judges with extra discretion, and may help to level the playing field in plea bargaining.

Criminal laws in Illinois are constantly changing. If you are facing criminal charges, it is important to seek the help of a dedicated Elgin criminal defense attorney who understands the legal landscape. Call The Law Office of Brian J. Mirandola at 847-488-0889.

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