This July, Illinois wrote into law Public Act 99-697, legislation that lessened the criminal penalties for certain levels of cannabis possession and drug paraphernalia. This rule change resulted in a new classification for these types of charges. Possession of either under the new law may result in a civil law violation.
To give you background, prior to the implementation of the new, possession of 10 grams of cannabis was a Class B Misdemeanor that could result in up to a 6-month jail sentence and fines up to $1,500. Likewise, possession of drug paraphernalia was considered a Class A Misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of $750 to $2,500.
Now, as a civil law violation, possession of up to 10 grams of cannabis or drug paraphernalia seized during the offense is punishable by only a $100-$200 fine. This puts the offenses for minor quantity possession of cannabis and paraphernalia on level with local ordinance violations and minor traffic offenses.
As a result, the Illinois Supreme Court was required to develop a new regulatory framework for handling these types of civil law violations. While the revised law demanded new punishment standards and moved the offenses to civil in nature, court circuit clerks in Illinois struggled with how these offenses would be handled administratively.
On September 1st, the Court adopted Rules 585, 586, 587, 588, 589 and 590 to Article V of the Illinois Supreme Court Rules. These rules lay out information regarding the applicability of civil law violations (Rules 585); court appearance guidelines (Rule 586); distributing notices to accused (Rule 587); fines and penalties on written consents to judgments (Rule 588); processing civil law citations (Rule 589); and what to do if the defendant fails to appear in court (Rule 590).
Similar to local ordinance violations in use by many Illinois municipalities, these civil law violations may be used as an additional tool for law enforcement while reducing the burden on criminal prosecution resources. Like many ordinance violations, the suspect may pay the fine ($120 in this case under Rule 588) to avoid the court appearance and conclude the matter. Otherwise, a court appearance is required to challenge the violation, or have a bench trial or jury trial. As these offenses are now civil in nature, the prosecuting entity would need to prove the civil law violation by a preponderance of the evidence; meaning it is more likely true than not that the violation occurred.