Criminal Law and Your Rights
Chicago Criminal Procedures
From the moment that a person is first suspected of committing a crime until that person is later released by the court, the process of navigating the criminal justice system can be overwhelming. At every point along the way, there are specific steps and procedures that must be followed, and a failure to properly follow procedures may ultimately make the difference between a finding of guilty or not guilty; between freedom and incarceration.
It is true in Chicago (as it is across the state of Illinois) that you cannot be forced to hire an attorney for your case whether it is criminal or traffic, misdemeanor or felony. But it is also basically true that if you insist on representing yourself, you will find that the judge is less than excited at the prospect. That’s because judges know that non-lawyers are unfamiliar with all of the legal rules and court procedures and generally will not represent themselves as well as an experienced Chicago criminal attorney would. Partially because of this, a judge will usually strongly suggest that you hire a private attorney, especially for any case that has the potential for jail.
The criminal justice process is complicated, which is why defendants need an experienced criminal defense lawyer to fight for them. If you or someone you know has been arrested, call Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC at (800) 996-4824 to discuss your case free of charge.
When a crime is believed to have been committed in Illinois, law enforcement begins by investigating what happened and gathering evidence. It may begin with a traffic stop, a 911 call, an informant tip, or the police officer may have personally witnessed a crime. Sometimes, as in the case where police witnessed the offense, there may be virtually no investigation at all. Other times, detectives may spend days, weeks, or months investigating a crime, speaking to witnesses, or examining records.
An arrest typically occurs once police believe that sufficient evidence exists to indicate that a certain person was responsible for a crime. The person may be arrested on the spot, after the police have been called to the scene of a crime, or after a long period of police investigation. In circumstances where the police believe that they have “reasonable grounds” to make an arrest, the arrest may occur without a warrant. In other circumstances, the police may first need to convince a judge that a “warrant for arrest” is appropriate.
Charging & Processing
Once a person has been arrested, the police may charge the crime in a number of ways. If the crime is a very minor offense, the police officer may simply issue a ticket or complaint at the scene. For most misdemeanors, however, arrestees will be handcuffed and taken to the station for processing, after which they will be released once they have posted a cash bond (or after signing a personal recognizance bond). But in the case of a felony, or certain misdemeanors including domestic battery and gun charges, the person will be brought in front of a judge to have bail set. This may require the arrestee to stay in custody overnight. Before any arrestee is released, he or she will also typically be fingerprinted and photographed.
Initial Bond Hearing
After an arrest, if the defendant has not already been released on bond from the police department, he or she will appear before a judge. A lawyer should be present at this appearance and bail may be set at this time. The amount set takes into consideration the nature of the charges, the chances that the defendant will flee the jurisdiction, the defendant’s criminal background, and various other factors. An experienced lawyer can argue for lower bail at this time.
The Grand Jury
In a felony case, the grand jury is convened to hear the evidence in the case and determine whether probably cause exists to believe that a crime was committed. If the grand jury, which is a group of people from the community, decides that a crime was likely committed, then the case will be assigned to another courtroom and legal proceedings will continue. This is called an indictment, or being indicted. If the grand jury, however, decides that the case has no merit, the charges are typically dropped at this stage.
Initial Court Date / Arraignment
After being charged with a crime, the defendant appears in court for an arraignment. At this appearance, the court will describe the charge or charges to the defendant and then the defendant is then given an opportunity to plead "guilty” or “not guilty" in Illinois. If the plea is not guilty, then further court dates, status dates, or a trial date schedule is set.
Discovery and Pre-Trial Motions
Before a courtroom trial, there is a period of “discovery” during which certain evidence is shared between the prosecution and defense. A defendant is generally entitled to a copy of all the police reports, video tapes, and other evidence that the prosecution intends to use against him or her at trial, so that the defense can properly prepare. Lawyers on both sides may also file motions before a trial, such as motions to suppress certain evidence or motions to exclude certain evidence from being used at trial. After the judge has ruled on these motions and each has been resolved, the case then may go to trial.
The defendant can determine whether a case ever actually goes to trial. That is because the defendant always has the option of entering a plea of guilty at any point in the process. If the defendant wishes to explore possible plea negotiations at any time, his or her attorney can do so either by entering into direct negotiations with the prosecutor, by taking part in a “402 conference” with the judge and prosecutor, or by entering a “blind plea” directly to the judge.
A trial may either be a “bench trial,” in which the judge will ultimately decide the defendant’s guilt or innocence, or a “jury trial,” in which a group of people from the community will make that determination (although the judge is still in charge of the trial proceedings). The nature of the events that occur during a trial will depend on the charges and details of the case, but in every trial, evidence is offered by the prosecution and defense, and the attorneys make both opening and closing arguments to argue the facts of the case. The jury or judge then deliberates on the case before issuing a verdict.
Sentencing and Post-Trial Motions
If the defendant is found “not guilty,” he or she is released and the case is over. But if the defendant is found “guilty,” the judge then decides the sentence. Arguments on the part of the defense may be made to reduce the severity of a sentence and the judge may require a pre-sentence report be completed before proceeding. Appeals or post-trial motions may also be filed, alleging that the defendant's rights were violated in some way, to call for a new trial or for a number of other reasons.
Sentencing penalties vary a great deal depending on the crime, but felonies in Illinois, by definition, are crimes that are punishable by a year or more in state prison. Misdemeanors carry a potential sentence of less than a year in county jail. Probation is often, but not always, an alternative to jail or prison. A skilled attorney can argue persuasively for the lightest sentence available. This in turn can help the defendant receive one that is the least likely to affect him or her in the future, and if possible, one which may later be erased or expunged.
Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC Has Defended Clients Since 1990
For over 25 years, the experienced and knowledgeable attorneys at Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC have been helping clients charged with crimes - from the minor to the most serious - navigate their way successfully through the criminal process. A great deal can happen during the criminal justice process and the job of an attorney is to aggressively defend your rights from start to finish. Don’t try to go through this alone. Call Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC at (800) 996-4824 to speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney with a history of successful results and begin protecting your rights today.