On January 1, 2018, a new law focused on Illinois gun crime called the Safe Neighborhoods Reform Act goes into effect. This is a “pilot program” that will expire on January 1, 2023. Illinois criminal defense lawyers Fagan, Fagan & Davis explain the effects on UUW and AUUW laws.

We previously discussed the new alternative sentencing program for certain first time Illinois gun crime offenders under the age of 21. The other side of that coin, however, is a more severe minimum sentence for anyone found guilty of a gun-based Aggravated Unlawful Use of a Weapon (AUUW) or Unlawful Use or Possession of Weapons by a Felon charge with previous weapon offenses or other specified convictions on their record. This section of the upcoming Illinois criminal law will include some new, unusual complications for criminal defense attorneys to navigate.

Triggering Prior Criminal Offenses

The new sentencing guidelines define a specific set of “qualifying predicate offenses” that will trigger higher minimum sentences for a defendant charged with either Unlawful Use or Possession of a Weapon by a Felon, or Aggravated Unlawful Use of a Weapon, where the weapon in either case is a firearm. This part of the bill has been characterized by proponents as a way to punish repeat offenders, but the previous conviction does not need to be for the same crime, or even a clearly related crime. Instead, 26 specific offenses are listed in the new Illinois criminal law, and the list is not entirely limited to convictions involving firearms. While Gunrunning or a prior Aggravated Unlawful Use of a Weapon conviction will qualify a defendant for a harsher sentence, other offenses on the list are less obvious – including Aggravated Criminal Sexual Assault, Predatory Criminal Sexual Assault of a Child, and Vehicular Hijacking. These last three crimes do not require the use or presence of any weapon, but still qualify defendants for the harsher guidelines.

Increased Penalties by the Numbers 

The increased minimum sentences for those who qualify for these new guidelines are severe. Under existing Illinois criminal law (still in effect until the end of 2017), a repeat offender for Unlawful Use or Possession of Weapons by a Felon faces 3 to 14 years in prison. The new sentence for the same charge with a “qualifying predicate offense” becomes 7 to 14 years. For Aggravated Unlawful Use of a Weapon, the new guidelines raise the minimum from the original 3 to 7 years in prison to 6 to 7 years.

Illinois State Senator Kwame Raoul, one of the primary authors of the law, characterizes these increased minimum sentences as presumptive rather than mandatory. While that may sound like political semantics, there is an important distinction here. The difference lies in a built-in “departure clause”. This clause allows Illinois criminal judges to make exceptions in applying the new guidelines on a case by case basis. This part of the statute carries its own requirements and guidelines. We’ll come back to that in the upcoming part 3 of our “Illinois Gun Crime Reloaded” series.

Contact the law firm of Fagan, Fagan & Davis now for a free consultation if you or a loved one face UUW or AUUW charges in Illinois.

-this post was prepared with assistance of Northern Illinois Law School Student Avi Fagan