Criminal Defense in Illinois


lawyer 12.16.14


We stress all of the time the importance of having a lawyer that is narrowly focused in the types of cases that they handle.  A jack of all trades attorney will not have the knowledge of the law you need or the relationships that you need, especially in a tougher case.

I saw a great example of this recently when I was called by a young man who had a felony charge of assaulting a police officer in Chicago.  He was part of the Ferguson protests and apparently things got really heated an he spit in an officer’s face.

What he did was wrong.  But at least after the fact he was smart.  He came to me and we made a referral to a top attorney who was a former Cook County prosecutor and now only defends criminal cases in the Chicago area.  He had a good relationship with the prosecutor and got him to agree to reduce the charges to a misdemeanor if the client would apologize to the cop.  After that the deal was to give him supervision which means that this could be expunged off of his record some day.  You don’t want a dumb mistake to ruin the rest of your life.

But things got even better for this rather lucky young man.  The cop missed two court dates.  Usually when the cop is the victim, Judges won’t ever dismiss a case.  But in this matter the connected attorney got the Judge to do it and an agreement from the prosecutor not to re-file the charges.

And it’s all because the lawyer was the right choice for this type of case.  He new the right people.  He had defended similar cases before.  He has a great reputation.  All of those things really matter.

There is an old saying that it’s not about what you know, but who you know.  That is incredibly true in law whether we want it to be or not.  And this case is a great example of that.

Of course the smart thing would have been to never have spit in the first place, but we don’t live in a perfect world with perfect people.  Mistakes are made.  Whether or not that mistake is a bad memory or ruins your life comes down to how seriously you take the criminal case.


“Disorderly conduct” is a criminal charge that applies to several types of situations, a fact that can make it seem a bit vague and even confusing. Disorderly conduct is described as conduct that disturbs the public peace, offends public morals or undermines public safety. It can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on what the individual is accused of doing.

The main thing to know about a disorderly conduct charge is that you should talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney about what happened. Chances are, a good attorney will be able to get the charges dismissed. We’ve seen many cases where disorderly conduct was just a default charge because there was nothing else that applied to the situation. If you haven’t broken any laws but you were rude or confrontational with the police, you might end up with one of these charges.

One common type of disorderly conduct is knowingly making a false report to a public safety agency. A false report of child abuse, a fire or a crime is against the law. Another example is when creditors harass or intimidate debtors by calling and using tactics meant to scare or pressure the person they’re contacting. The difference between these two examples just goes to show that disorderly conduct is a catchall.

A conviction of disorderly conduct can include fines and a public service requirement. Incarceration is rare, but possible. Fines can get up to $10,000 in some cases and the community service hours can range from 30 to 120.

In any situation where you’re facing criminal charges, we recommend looking for an Illinois defense attorney who has handled cases with those exact charges in the past. We believe this gives you the best chance at success. In a case of disorderly conduct, your goal is to avoid a conviction. Look or a defense attorney who is local, knows the judges and prosecutors and has a good reputation. Perhaps most importantly, they should be able to demonstrate a history of success in similar cases. Even if you think your charges are unfounded, don’t count on the judge to agree with you. Get an attorney who can put together the best case on your behalf.


A BAIID is a Breath Alcohol Ignition Interlock Device. First-time DUI offenders can get special permission (a Monitoring Device Driving Permit) that lets them drive during their suspension as long as they have one of these devices installed in their vehicle. The device prevents the vehicle from starting if the driver’s blood alcohol content is over a certain amount.

The driver blows into the device, which measures alcohol content and then either allows the car to start, or prevents it from starting if it measures a BAC of .025 or above. The device randomly requires the driver to blow into it again while driving. This prevents an intoxicated person from getting around the device by having a non-intoxicated person help them start the car.

All of the readings on the device are monitored by the Illinois Secretary of State. If you try to start the car and give a breath sample that registers over the limit, you might get a letter from the Secretary of State asking you for an explanation. Depending on your situation, you might not get a letter unless there is a pattern of failures or if your particular reading was above a certain limit.

If you do get a letter, and you don’t respond, or if your explanation is determined to be insufficient, your driver’s license suspension period might be extended by a few months. In some cases you can lose your permit that allows you drive with the monitoring device. Multiple incidents can lead to your car getting impounded or even taken away.

These devices don’t always work perfectly, and people make mistakes. It could be that someone else was using your car. Don’t freak out. You will hear from the secretary of state if they want an explanation. In the meantime, write down any failed readings and call your DUI attorney for reassurance and to see if there’s anything else you need to do while you wait. They can also help you write a letter of explanation to the Secretary of State if necessary.

It might seem like a hassle, but if you need to drive during your Illinois license suspension, a monitoring device is your best bet. If you are caught driving without permission during your suspension, it’s a felony, which in Illinois can include possible jail time, community service and fines up to $25,000. It’s worth it despite the monthly rental and monitoring fees of having the BAIID in your car.



It’s no surprise that you can lose your license if you drink and drive, but the details can be confusing because in Illinois there are two different ways in which you can lose your license. There is what’s called a “statutory summary suspension” from the secretary of state, and then there potentially is a separate license suspension or revocation if you are found guilty of driving under the influence.

Statutory summary suspension

The main thing to know about Illinois’ statutory summary suspension is that it’s automatic. If you are arrested and a blood alcohol test at the police station confirms that you were intoxicated beyond the legal limit (.08), the secretary of state automatically suspends your license for six months. If you refuse the test, you will get an automatic one-year suspension. These are for first offenses. For a second offense, the statutory summary suspension for testing above the legal limit is one year, and for refusing testing it’s three years. There is no penalty for refusing a field sobriety test at the side of the road.

A statutory summary suspension does not begin right away. It actually starts 45 days after your arrest. The suspension is not based on guilt or innocence. It’s an administrative and automatic penalty for failing a chemical test or refusing a chemical test. You can, however, go to court and ask the judge to cancel your suspension by proving that your arrest was unlawful or based on some other reason why your license should not have been suspended.


If you are convicted of a DUI, your license can be revoked for a year or more. Unlike the suspension described above, a license revocation is a criminal penalty that applies if you are proven guilty. If you receive court supervision as the outcome after a DUI, you may not face revocation. For second, third or further offenses, license revocation can last anywhere from five years to life.

If you drive on a suspended or revoked license you can face felony charges. After the period of suspension, you have to pay a fee for reinstatement. After revocation, you may have to go to a hearing. Be certain that your license is properly reinstated before you start driving again.

 Other things to keep in mind: If your driving privileges are suspended or revoked in Illinois, then they are suspended and revoked in other states, as well. Also, the above rules and timelines can be different for drivers who are under 21. First-time offenders might be eligible to drive during suspension if they get a monitoring device.

Written by Michael Helfand

Not everyone is entitled to a public defender. There has to be financial need. Also, don’t be so sure that you want a public defender. If hiring a private attorney is an option for you, it might be a better idea.

Everyone has the right to a defense, and if you are facing jail time, you have the right to an attorney. If you can’t afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you. The judge isn’t going to take your word for it, though. You have to fill out an Affidavit of Assets and Liabilities at your first court appearance. Then, the judge decides whether you will get a free attorney based on the information you provide.

Public defenders are only available in criminal cases. The court will not appoint a free attorney in a divorce or any other type of civil case, except a paternity matter. If you have a civil case, there may be a legal aid organization that can help. Also, many people don’t realize that a lot of civil cases don’t require any attorney fees up front. These are called contingency cases, and you pay your lawyer at the end of the case if and when you win. There is no fee if the case is lost. So, anyone can afford to hire a contingency lawyer.

Public defenders are free, but they might not be your best option. Public defenders are paid for by taxpayers, as a government service, rather than by individual clients. This doesn’t mean they aren’t good attorneys. They are licensed and trained like other attorneys, and they handle a lot of cases so their experience is solid. But like most things, you get what you pay for. Public defenders typically handle a lot of cases and many are overworked. The main benefit of a private attorney is their time.

If you hire a private attorney, you will be paying them hourly, so the time you pay for is yours. An established law firm is going to have the ability to devote more time to your case, as a general rule, and put extra effort into investigating and researching your defense. They’re busy, too, but they have an added incentive for moving your case along quickly because that’s how they get paid.

We’re not saying all private defense attorneys are great. Some really aren’t. But if you choose wisely, you’ll be in a good position to get a positive outcome. Look for someone who has a lot of experience handling similar cases in the same courthouse. If you later realize you made a bad choice in hiring your private defense attorney, you can change your mind at any time. You can fire him or her and find someone else. This is not an option with a public defender. You generally do not get to choose who represents you when you have a court-appointed lawyer.

Written by Michael Helfand

Young man in handcuffs

A felony conviction can follow you for the rest of your life. It shows up on background checks, which means that you’ll have to disclose it, and many people can end up seeing it. It can make it more difficult to get and keep a job, and it can altogether prevent you from applying for certain types of jobs. With this in mind, Illinois has made it easier to move on after a felony conviction, at least for some, by making more felony convictions sealable.

Expungement and sealing laws are somewhat complicated and hard to explain because they apply differently depending on a person’s prior record, type of offense and outcome of the case.  The general rule has been that you can’t clear your record of felony convictions. There was a very narrow exception for Class 4 felony drug possession and prostitution convictions. Those were eligible for sealing.

The list of exceptions has recently been expanded. The following non-violent felonies are now eligible for sealing in Illinois:

– Class 4 felonies: prostitution, possession of cannabis, possession of a controlled substance, offenses under the Methamphetamine Precursor Control Act, offenses under the Steroid Control Act, theft, retail theft, deceptive practices, forgery, possession of burglary tools

– Class 3 felonies: theft, retail theft, deceptive practices, forgery, and possession with intent to manufacture or deliver a controlled substance

Convictions of these felonies can be sealed four years after the end of the individual’s sentence. Any subsequent felony convictions cannot be sealed, and if there is a second felony conviction, the prior sealed conviction may be unsealed. A petition (request) to seal a record is filed with the clerk of the court.

There might be a hearing, if the prosecution or police files an objection. At the hearing, the judge may consider several things when making a decision, including the evidence supporting the conviction, the reasons why the prosecutor is opposed to sealing the record, the defendant’s age, criminal history and employment history, how much time has passed and the “adverse consequences the petitioner may be subject to if the petition is denied.”

Sealed convictions do not show up on employer background checks, and employers are not allowed to ask about sealed criminal records.

If you want to know if your record in Illinois can be sealed or expunged, give us a call or fill out our contact form and you can talk with one of our experienced attorneys for free.


From arrest to sentencing, here’s a general overview of what you can expect in an Illinois criminal case.

Pre-arrest. Sometimes a criminal case starts with an arrest. Other times, a victim or someone else calls the police to report a crime. If warranted, police detectives will investigate the crime. Once they have enough “probable cause” they can make an arrest. Having probable cause means that the police have a reasonable belief that a crime was committed.

Arrest. Sometimes, an arrest happens right away, such as when an officer sees the crime occurring and arrests the suspect on the spot. Other times it happens after some investigation or a search for the suspect.

Charges. After an arrest, the police or the state’s attorney, or both, will determine which charges are appropriate for the crime allegedly committed.

Bond. After being charged, a defendant will find out whether he or she will be released on bond. This means that they post the required bail and are released until the next court date. For most misdemeanors, the bond amount is pre-set. For more serious crimes, a bond hearing will be held, usually within 24 hours but almost always within 48 hours.

Arraignment. The arraignment happens about a month after an arrest. It’s the official notification of the charges against someone. For felonies, a grand jury first reviews the evidence and makes an independent determination on whether there is enough evidence to go forward with prosecution.

Discovery. Attorneys for both sides collect and review evidence and get ready for trial. There may be pre-trial motions during this time, often about the admission of various evidence. There may be other court dates set by the judge to make sure the case is moving along as it should.

Trial. The defendant has the right to a jury trial or a bench trial (no jury). It’s up to them. At trial, both sides – defense and prosecution – argue their case, present evidence and question witnesses in court. Guilt or innocence is determined by the judge or jury.

Sentencing. If the defendant is found guilty, the next and last step is sentencing. Both sides argue for what they think is a reasonable sentence. The prosecution might present evidence of past crimes, and the defense might present evidence of mitigation (defendant’s good standing in the community, for example).

An appeal follows a different process. If you have questions about what to expect in an Illinois criminal case, feel free to give us a call. 

Written by Michael Helfand


Federal convictions are quite serious. It is important to know that unlike a state prison where you can get time off for good behavior, if you are sentenced to a certain term in a federal prison, you will serve at least 85% of that term unless you are given a pardon or your conviction is overturned.

Federal crimes are those committed on federal property, crimes committed in more than one state, and violation of federal rather than state criminal laws. Some crimes fall under both state and federal laws and you could find yourself in either court system. The consequences of federal court are generally greater, in part because the sentences are more harsh and less flexible.

Other than prison time, possible penalties include loss of the right to vote, loss of the right to own a firearm or other deadly weapon, a monetary fine and/or parole. A judge may even order counseling. Plus, the conviction must be disclosed to future potential employers. It can be a long road not only during trial but during your prison term and even after you’ve served your time.

While the facts of the particular case will ultimately determine the punishment if you are convicted, some of the other factors that a judge will look at in determining a sentence include previous criminal convictions, mitigating circumstances such as whether you were present during the commission of the crime and even your character. As odd as it sounds, your sentence can also be increased because of your refusal to admit your guilt or your career choice (lawyers, politicians and law enforcement officials are held to a higher standard). On the flip side, letters of support, community involvement and the real harm you caused can also reduce the actual penalty.

The potential penalties are too severe to risk hiring an attorney who is not an experienced federal criminal attorney. In fact, it is very common to hire a new attorney for just the sentencing phase of the case alone because it can be so important and there are attorneys who focus their practice on just this phase of prosecution. Judges are bound by sentencing guidelines, but those guidelines are subjective, and a smart, experienced attorney can often be the difference between jail time and probation.

Please note that the federal government has been very aggressive in prosecuting cases recently and has been pushing for maximum prison sentences whenever possible. That does not mean that if you are convicted you will receive the maximum sentence, but it does underscore the importance of having an experienced federal criminal attorney if you are charged with a federal crime. It is important to have someone on your side with experience and knowledge of federal criminal procedure and its nuances and intricacies. Similarly, if you are involved in a high-profile case, you need an attorney who knows how to handle the publicity and attention these cases attract.

Finally, when looking a federal criminal defense attorney, make sure they have a good reputation. Someone who is respected by the prosecutors and the judge, and who is known for their knowledge of the law and strong client advocacy, is your best bet. If you need help finding an attorney who meets these criteria, let us know.



Most people know that a felony is more serious than a misdemeanor, but what is the technical difference? And what about the different levels of felonies and misdemeanors?

A felony is defined as a crime that is punishable by a year or more in jail, while a misdemeanor is one that is punishable by less than a year. Both can, and often do, carry fines. Felonies range in severity from Class 4 up to Class 1, and there’s even a Class X for the worst crimes. Misdemeanors range from Class C up to Class A, which is the most serious.

Charges can be elevated on a second offense. Something that is normally a misdemeanor could become a felony. The specific circumstances of the crime – a child victim, for example – can do the same.

Many types of crimes come with a set sentencing range. For a Class X felony, for example, that range is 6 to 30 years in prison. For a Class 4 felony, the minimum is one year.
Usually, the goal of your attorney, no matter what type of criminal charges you are facing, is to get those charges reduced or dismissed.

Common outcomes in misdemeanor cases, especially those that are less serious or first offenses, are court supervision or probation. Many misdemeanors can be sealed or expunged from your record, although it can depend on what else is on your record and whether you have any additional run-ins with the law during the waiting period.

Felonies are typically thought of as violent crimes, although certain drug and theft offenses fall into the same categories. Felonies usually stay on your criminal record, with the exception of some specific Class 3 and 4 felonies. Conviction of a felony can mean prison time, as well as loss of certain rights. It’s important to hire an attorney with significant experience defending felonies if you are facing such charges.

In any type of criminal case, don’t hire an attorney who is just going to help you plead guilty, unless the decision to plead guilty is made deliberately after exploring all of your options. In other words, find someone who is going to fight for you and do everything they can to get the best outcome possible.  If you’d like our help in finding a lawyer please fill out the contact form to the right or call us at any time.


Not a week goes by where we don’t get a phone call that goes something like this:

I broke up with my girlfriend a week ago.  She wasn’t happy about that, but I really sent her over the edge when she saw me with a new girl at a bar in Chicago.  She screamed at me there, called the other girl a whore and threw a drink on me.  I did nothing, but smile and walk away.   I was going to get a restraining order against her, but before I could do that, the cops knocked on my door and arrested me.  She told them that I punched her multiple times.  That’s a complete lie.  How can I get hauled off to jail when this never happened?  Do I even need an attorney since I’m 100% innocent and she’s nuts.  I’d never hit a woman.

So how did this happen?

All it takes for the police to arrest someone is to have another person file a complaint alleging a crime.  While it would be nice and helpful if they investigated to determine if anything actually happened, they aren’t obligated to.  Unfortunately, this type of bogus arrest happens all of the time.

This guy does need a Chicago criminal defense lawyer.  If his ex shows up at court and will lie under oath, he could find himself convicted and doing jail time.  That seems ridiculous, but innocent people go to jail every day in America.

The hope is to get the charges dropped and then get her arrested for filing a false police report.  When faced with a crazy person, you really have to push back a bit.

It’s not just crazy ex’s that do this type of stuff.  Employers will report employees for theft without any proof.  Neighbors will go after neighbors they don’t like.

The good news is that an experienced attorney can almost always make these charges go away.  The bad news is that it does cost you money to deal with and of course it’s a headache.  But never assume that just because you are innocent that nothing will happen.  It’s a crime to lie on the witness stand under oath, but it’s also a crime to make a false police report.  If it happens once, then they’ll do it again.

Written by Michael Helfand