If you are facing criminal charges, then you are almost certainly nervous about the entire process. You may not be sure how to protect your rights and freedoms. You need to equip yourself with an attorney who regularly practices in the courtroom that your case will be heard. Being able to navigate the court system, the prosecutors, and the judges is essential to the best possible outcome in your case.
Let’s take a look at the criminal court process so you know what to expect at each stage. Obviously, every case is different, and this is a very general overview of the process. Some or all the information contained here may not apply to your case.
I will also preface this outline with a reminder that if you are currently in any stage of this process, you can and should obtain legal representation.
The Initial Complaint
In most, but not all cases, a complaint is filed by a victim, witness, or police officer alleging a violation of the law. In other cases, the incident may be directly witnessed by the police, like a DUI. Not all complaints result in criminal charges, as discussed below.
Once a complaint has been filed, the police will investigate the matter. This can take minutes, days, weeks, or months. A detective may interview witnesses and review physical evidence. They may also call the suspect and ask them to come in to clear up a few details. In some cases, especially for more complex crimes, a grand jury may be involved. The investigation may involve Felony State’s Attorneys to assist in determining the specific charges to be brought.
Charges are only filed and an arrest made if the investigation reveals probable cause that a violation of the law was committed. This means that the government has to reasonably suspect you have committed a crime. You will then be arrested, although for minor crimes you are likely to be released the same day with a future court date. For more serious crimes you may be held until the initial court appearance, usually the next morning. Some charges result in the towing and impoundment of your vehicle, as well as asset forfeiture.
After the initial court appearance, you may have to post bond, or get somebody to do so on your behalf, and follow a multitude of different bond conditions. For example, there may be no contact orders or firearm surrender orders entered at your initial court appearance. For more serious crimes with higher bonds, a bond reduction hearing may be requested where a judge will listen to evidence and arguments regarding the amount of bond along with other potential bond conditions. You may be required to provide proof to the Court of the source of any money being used to post bond. If you can post bond and are released from custody, you must abide by all of the conditions of your bond or risk serious consequences, including forfeiture of your bond.
Going to Court
The court process starts with a date to enter a plea. You generally want to have your legal representation figured out prior to this court date. A grand jury may be called upon to review the probable cause of your charges prior to formally being indicted. Your lawyer will ask for discovery and negotiate your case with the prosecutor. Several reasons may cause you to enter a not guilty plea as the negotiation and discovery process continues at status dates. Motions may be filed and hearings may be held. Setting the case for a jury trial will result in multiple future court dates as the trial approaches.
In most cases you can choose between a jury trial and a bench trial. For minor offenses, a bench trial is a lot faster because the judge, rather than 12 jurors, will determine guilt and sentence. However, everyone has the constitutional right to a jury trial and for criminal charges, you must waive your right to a jury trial in order to set a bench trial or plead guilty.
A jury trial begins with jury selection, or voir dire. The prosecutor, judge, you and your attorney pick the jury through routine and basic questioning and a series of striking jurors. Opening arguments kick off the exciting part of the trial. Then the prosecution presents their case, followed by the defense. The Defendant has 5th Amendment rights that protect their silence as well as the presumption of innocence. Only an experienced trial lawyer can fully protect and properly advocate for all your rights at trial.
Finally, if you are found guilty at trial, the judge will determine your sentence. Your lawyer will be doing their best to try and reduce your sentence as much as possible by preparing for the sentencing hearing with mitigation, but the ultimate decision lies with the judge. Sometimes, a blind plea is entered in which the State and Defendant are unable to agree on a sentence, also resulting in a sentencing hearing.
If you have been charged with a crime in Illinois, you need the best defense lawyer you can find. I have been on the frontlines in McHenry County almost every day for the past 6 years fighting for people’s rights. To talk about your case, call 262-719-4442 or fill out the contact form below.