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Illinois federal crimes attorney, Illinois criminal attorney, Illinois defense lawyer,Effective January 1, 2017, judges in Illinois now must explain, on the record, why they handed down a prison sentence for a crime that also carries a punishment of probation when imposing sentences on two classifications of felonies. This change in Illinois law now forces judges to clarify reasons when they could previously have been silent. It also makes judges explain why none of the mitigating factors swayed he or she from imposing a prison sentence instead of a less restrictive sentence.

The requirement of this new explanation at sentencing was aimed at encouraging judges across Illinois to become less reliant on imprisonment and more reliant on diversionary programs that may be more suitable for nonviolent offenders. Illinois law allows a judge’s discretion when imposing criminal sentences for various crimes. A judge may consider a wide array of factors when imposing a sentence, such as:

  • Financial impact of a term of incarceration;
  • Family history;
  • History of substance abuse;
  • Military service;
  • Acceptance of responsibility; and
  • History of sexual or physical abuse.

These factors are often referred to as mitigating circumstances. Sentencing guidelines have come under scrutiny in the U.S. with overcrowding prisons and a criminal justice system struggling under the weight of the caseload it must manage. However, efforts have been made to alleviate that burden.

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At a conference at the American Bar Association in San Francisco, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder plans for the federal government to scale back stiff sentences for some drug crimes and divert low-level offenders to drug treatment and community service programs. “We cannot simply prosecute or incarcerate our way to becoming a safer nation,” he said.

A recent editorial in the Chicago Sun-Times said that the change in sentencing laws is a welcome reform for an overused and overburdened federal prison system. For decades, mandatory minimum sentencing, although politically popular, often times disallowed the court to look at the individual defendant and the individual case to decide if there were extenuating circumstances that led to the commission of the crime.

In a statement regarding the Attorney General’s announcement, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said, “The mandatory minimum sentence policy has led to severe overcrowding in our prison system and swelled taxpayer spending on incarceration and detention.”

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