By Attorney Angie Reed
In 2018, Illinois passed legislation that implemented the “First Time Weapon Offender Program.” This program allowed people charged with a gun-related felony to enter a program (which functions much like probation), and upon successful completion of that program, have the charge dismissed.
Initially, the FTWOP was intended to be a 5-year “pilot program,” an experiment to implement rehabilitation, reduce gun violence, and to provide a second chance for people to avoid the serious consequences of a felony conviction. In 2023, the program was extended for an additional year, set to expire in early 2024.
Prior to this extension, the following criteria had to be met to qualify for the program:
- The defendant had to be between the ages of 18 and 20 years old.
- The offense charged had to be non-violent in nature.
- This meant eligible charges were gun possession charges, rather than violent charges that involved a gun (e.g. burglary, robbery, aggravated battery)
- The offense charged had to be a Class 4 felony or lower.
- The defendant could not have an active Order of Protection placed against them.
- The defendant must not have been convicted of a previous violent crime, as either an adult or a juvenile, and…
- The defendant could not have previously been placed in the FTWOP.
The program is entirely discretionary; it has to be offered by the State's Attorney to the defendant (or their counsel), and the presiding judge must agree to the terms.
The program's initial term was mandated to be between 18 and 24 months, and had the following requirements of the defendant:
- Do not commit a new crime.
- Do not possess a firearm or any other dangerous weapon.
- If unemployed, find employment or demonstrate to the court attempts to find employment.
- Obtain a high school diploma or equivalency (GED), if applicable, or complete a vocational training program.
- Do not consume any illegal drug (subject to drug testing).
- Pay all applicable fines and fees.
- Perform at least 50 hours of community service, and…
- Attend any counseling sessions as required.
After initially only extending the program, in May of 2023, the Illinois legislature passed a bill that made the program permanent, and changed some of the more restrictive eligibility criteria and term requirements of program. Governor Pritzker signed that bill in July of 2023, making the legislation effective immediately on that date.
The most notable changes with the permanent program are:
- The program is now the First Time Weapon Offense Program.
- The age limit is removed, making the FTWOP available for anyone faced with a first-time firearm offense.
The required minimum term for the program is dropped from 18 months to 6 months
- The maximum term remains 24 months.
- Once admitted to the program under all other previous eligibility requirements, the defendant still must (1) not possesses a firearm or other dangerous weapon and (2) refrain from committing another crime, but the rest of the program terms become discretionary.
- This means drug testing, high school diploma/GED/equivalency completion, vocational training, employment, community service, and fines all are at the discretion of the State's Attorney and the presiding judge.
The permanence of this program means more people faced with first-time, non-violent gun possession offenses will have a second chance afforded to them by the criminal legal system in Illinois. Because so much of the program remains discretionary, it is important to get an attorney involved if you are charged with a gun offense. A skilled attorney can negotiate admittance to the FTWOP and argue for favorable terms.