A push is being made for a new state law that would require mandatory minimum jail sentences for individuals who break gun laws in Illinois. The motive behind this push is that they believe people who commit crimes with guns or violate gun laws should automatically receive jail time.
Two important issues arise out of this new legislative push.
First, and one that defense lawyers will likely agree with, is that to make room in the jails for the additional offenders who would now be required to serve jail time they are proposing to change other laws in ways that would make jail time less likely for other, non-weapon related offenses. Specifically, they would consider raising the felony theft threshold amount from $300 to a higher amount of $500. This would mean fewer individuals charged with theft would receive a felony than before, and thus fewer people would receive jail sentences. Further, they have also mentioned allowing electric monitoring to be used more instead of jail time for drug possession charges of lower amounts of cocaine or heroin.
Defense attorneys will agree that these changes would be welcome and make sense, as jails are overcrowded and a jail sentence does not always fit the crime.
However, what is troubling is that these changes may only come at a cost. It would be great if they could come because people simply believe it is the right thing to do. But instead they come as a way to balance this new push for mandatory minimum jail sentences for gun offenses.
The problem with this new push is that a mandatory minimum jail sentence is just that: mandatory. There is no discretion allowed to the judge. No matter what. Even if there are extenuating circumstances and even if jail is not the best option. This kind of law does not consider each individual defendant and the particular circumstances that caused the violation and provides no opportunity to tailor punishment to the best option for that defendant.
We will have to wait and see what happens, but it would be good to see the laws be changed to allow less jail time for crimes that should not require it. In the meantime, defense attorneys will continue to fight for their clients to challenge any unfair punishments being sought against their clients.