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Illinois' New "Offender Initiative Program"

A new law entitled the "Offender Initiative Program" has recently taken effect in the State of Illinois regarding sentence and punishment. In essence, it is a program designed to allow certain first time felony defendants to avoid a felony conviction. The goal of this program is to reduce recidivism by defendants who can lead productive lives without burdening them with the lifetime label of "convicted felon".

The Offender Initiative Program requires the defendant to have never previously been sentenced on a felony, and the current charge must be limited to certain non-violent offenses or drug possession charges. Examples include burglary, theft, forgery, and possession of a controlled substance.

The program further requires the defendant to waive his right to a probable cause hearing, and consent of the judge and prosecutor must be obtained. Upon satisfying these requirements, the court will enter an order suspending the criminal proceedings for not less than 12 months while the defendant participates in the program.

Participation in the program may require the defendant to obtain a job, complete an education program, perform public service work, remain drug/alcohol free, and pay resitituition. Upon successful completion of the program, the judge will enter an order dismissing the case in its entirety.

Previoulsy, the options were very limited for felony defendants to avoid a lifetime conviction. Such options were only for defendants eligible for either "410" or "TASC" probation. This law expands that opportunity and will, hopefully, allow many felony defendants to become productive members of our soceity without the burden of the convicted felon label.

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