In the state of Illinois, a FOID card, or Firearm Owner's Identification Card, is necessary for any and all legal handling of a firearm. Without a FOID card or a Conceal and Carry card, you are in violation of the law whenever you are in possession of a firearm.
Sometimes, a FOID card holder who is caught in possession of a firearm that is not loaded and has no ammo in the vicinity will simply be charged with a misdemeanor Unlawful Use of a Weapon, or UUW, in misdemeanor form. This is different from Aggravated Unlawful Use of a Weapon, or Aggravated UUW.
Aggravated UUW can occur when a FOID card holder is in possession of a firearm that is either loaded or there is ammo in the vicinity. More commonly, however, Aggravated UUWs occur simply because the gun carrier has no FOID card or Conceal and Carry card whatsoever.
For this reason, Aggravated UUWs are fairly common. If you or someone you know has been charged with either a UUW or an Aggravated UUW, make sure to contact a criminal attorney near you.
What Constitutes as Aggravated Unlawful Use of a Weapon in the State of Illinois?
While generally, a misdemeanor UUW is usually probation eligible, an Aggravated UUW can be a much more trying burden. The fact that you can automatically face a mandatory minimum of one year in prison for simply possessing a firearm without a FOID card and a conceal and carry card, only makes the charge that much more dangerous. Gun laws in Illinois are so strict, oftentimes offenders charged with UUWs and Aggravated UUWs are out-of-state residents passing through who don't even know they're breaking the law.
Another major contributor to the vast amounts of UUWs and Aggravated UUWs is state residents that do not realize that their FOID cards and conceal and carry cards have expired. Whether you are unaware of the laws or simply unaware that your FOID card or CCL card needs renewal, the charge is still the same. If you are handling a firearm in the state of Illinois without a valid FOID card or conceal and carry license, you will be charged.
What Are Some Situations Where One Might Get Charged with an Aggravated UUW?
In regards to current Illinois law, you can be charged with an Aggravated UUW if you have a firearm, either on or about your person or in your vehicle, you are not on your own property, and one or more of these conditions are true:
You do not have a valid FOID card
You do not have a valid Conceal and Carry Card
You are under the age of 21
You are considered a "minor delinquent" by the state
You are in possession of a controlled substance
You have had a protection order or a restraining order put in place against you within the past 2 years
The firearm is loaded, removed from it's carrying case, and accessible
The firearm was not loaded, was not in it's carrying case, but there was ammunition accessible
What Are the Penalties for Unlawful Use of a Weapon in the State of Illinois?
When you are charged with a misdemeanor UUW you are facing a Class A misdemeanor, you are looking at a maximum sentence of up to a single year in jail, as well as a fine that can be up to $2,500. There's also the possibility, in some cases, for Conditional Discharge or probation.
Aggravated UUW is a much more serious charge, and carries with it some potential life-altering penalties. Whether you are an Illinois resident or not, being caught with a loaded firearm without a valid and up-to-date FOID card or conceal and carry card can get you charged with an Aggravated UUW.
As a Class 4 felony, an Aggravated UUW can put you at risk for 1 to 3 years in prison. Because Illinois is so serious about its gun charges, you are not likely to see much leniency, even in extraneous circumstances such as a recently expired FOID card or being from out-of-state.
If you are arrested for an Agg UUW and you had neither a Conceal and Carry permit nor a FOID card, you will be facing a mandatory minimum of one year in prison. This charge is not eligible for probation.
Does Illinois Allow Those with Criminal Records to Get FOID Cards?
In Illinois, residents who have been convicted of a felony are not allowed to obtain a FOID card. However, there is a slight caveat to that put in place for felons who have turned their life around. If the felony you were convicted of was non-violent and occurred at least 20 years previously, you can make a special appeal to the state to try and get a personal exemption for a FOID card.
How Does One Obtain a FOID Card in the State of Illinois?
Legally obtaining a FOID card in the State of Illinois isn't too complicated, but you will need to pass a rigorous background check and will have to make sure you meet all of these requirements:
You are not currently subject to any no-contact, protection, or no-stalking orders
You have not been convicted of a violation of a protection order, either aggravated or basic assault or battery, in the past 5 years
You have never received a conviction for either aggravated or basic domestic battery
You are not currently a fugitive in any jurisdiction
You have legal residency status in the US
You do not have a medical marijuana card
You have never been dishonorably discharged from any military branch
You have never been convicted of a felony in any US state
You are not considered mentally defective by the courts
You have not been admitted as a patient to any mental health care facility in the past 5 years
You are neither developmentally nor intellectually handicapped
You have not been under the influence of any controlled substances in the past year
It is always important to remember that, once you have obtained your FOID card, you are still not allowed to handle or carry a loaded weapon. If you want to carry a loaded weapon, you will then have to apply to receive a separate Concealed Carry License or CCL.
What Should You Do If You Have a Criminal Record and You Get a UUW?
Because of the strict nature of gun laws in Illinois, there are many possibilities for accidental violations. A common occurrence is for a convicted felon or someone otherwise without a FOID card to not even realize that there is a gun in the vicinity. In cases like this, there are some possible strategies for getting through the courts relatively unscathed.
If you are in this situation, the best thing you can do is contact an attorney well-versed in the specific gun laws of Illinois. Possible defenses can include:
The accused party was transporting the firearm to a law enforcement agency and had properly informed them beforehand
The accused had simply stumbled upon the firearm and then notified the proper authorities
The firearm was taken from someone who was attempting to use it against the accused
The firearm was found by law enforcement during an illegal search
Any confessions or statements regarding the incident were not obtained legally by law enforcement
The accused had no knowledge that the firearm was in the vicinity
How Does the State of Illinois Handle Second Amendment Rights?
Compared to many other states in the country, Illinois takes its gun laws and restrictions very seriously. For instance, Illinois is one of only five states in the entire country that flat-out prohibits you to carry a visible firearm. Illinois only allows concealed carry, and only with valid Illinois paperwork or a CCL. Out-of-state cards and permits will not carry any weight in Illinois.
Regardless of any ignorance or any extraneous circumstances, any violation of Illinois gun laws is liable to land you with a conviction and the possibility of prison. Given the extreme nature of the laws, this can put many residents, both in-state and out-of-state, into some serious accidental trouble. Should you find yourself entangled in the messy web of Illinois gun laws, your best bet is to contact an experienced attorney as soon as possible.
Is It Possible to Vacate Your Criminal Conviction?
Sadly, once you're caught up in the court system, it's hard to ever get all the way out. Even if you received a UUW or Aggravated UUW purely by accident, it is a charge that will stay with you for a long time to come. Ironically, receiving one of these charges will make it that much more difficult for you to ever go about being able to handle a firearm the legal way.
Because of the gravity of these charges, consulting an experienced gun law attorney is a must when you find yourself on the receiving end. We can help you come out of this mess relatively unscathed. Hopefully, with the right help, you'll be able to put this incident behind you.
Always remember, gun laws are very serious, especially in Illinois, and knowing is half the battle. Finding someone who knows and who can help guide you along your way can make all the difference for your freedom.
Contact our gun lawyers today for a free consultation. With our help, you can be well on your way to escaping this mess and getting your life back under control.