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Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney
Former Cook County Felony Prosecutor

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The 7 Steps of the Criminal Process in Illinois

Getting arrested is scary for anyone, but the experience is particularly frightening to individuals otherwise unfamiliar with the criminal justice system. Many first-timers are unsure of what will happen to them, what they can expect in the near future, and what steps need to be taken next to best protect their rights and freedom.


Here we will take a brief look at the criminal justice process for any crime in the State of Illinois.   Hopefully it will help alleviate some of the fear rooted in uncertainty, and help newcomers take their first steps in addressing their charges.


This article does not describe all potential strategies and outcomes of a criminal case, but rather serves as a quick outline of a traditional criminal case. If you have been arrested, there are specific elements of your case that will require review from expert legal counsel. The best place to begin is consulting a knowledgeable, experienced, and well-regarded criminal justice attorney – and to do this as soon as possible. The sooner you begin crafting a defense strategy, the higher the likelihood of a positive outcome for your case.


Below are the seven general steps that criminal cases in Illinois follow.




Complaints aren’t involved in every criminal charge, but many of the cases investigated by police begin here. When someone believes they are a witness or a victim of a crime, they may notify the police and file a complaint. Alternatively, a police officer will witness firsthand a crime in progress or notice suspicious behavior and begin the next stage.





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The investigation process varies widely in length. Depending on the crime, it may involve a detective interviewing witnesses and reviewing physical evidence. Investigating more complex crimes—like white collar crimes—may involve a using grand jury subpoena for testimony, collecting and reviewing documents and records, or forensic analysis in a crime laboratory. Investigation is the stage where the state decides if it has enough evidence to charge you with a crime.




If the investigation reveals probable cause (i.e. reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed) they may make an arrest. Once you are arrested, you are taken into police custody.


Investigators must also evaluate what specific criminal offense to charge you with, which depends on a number of circumstances surrounding the crime. For example, if you are being charged with battery, the prosecution could upgrade your charge to the more serious aggravated battery charge if they decide the victim’s injuries are severe enough to warrant this.


Depending on the crime, you may be released shortly after you are booked, with a notice to appear in court for your first hearing. This is often the case with DUI arrests. Those arrested for drunk driving may be held for a short time while they sober up, but they are generally released within a few hours or the next day.  In other instances, you may be held until your court date, or until somebody can post bail for your release.


Bond Court


As soon as you are officially charged with a crime, you become the defendant in a criminal case. Incarcerated defendants are eligible to post bond (also called bail) for their release.

In the bulk of misdemeanor cases—except in the case of a domestic violence charge—the defendant’s bond is set by judicial rule. If you are able to post the required amount of bail, you can be released until your first court date.


If you cannot post bail, or if you have committed a more serious criminal offense, you may be held in police custody until your bond hearing. The law requires a bond hearing to be scheduled within 48 hours, although it’s usually within 24. During this hearing, a bond judge will determine the appropriate amount of bail.


The sum of money posted as bail is not part of your punishment. It is meant to assure you will turn up at your first court date, and if you paid your money directly to the court it will be returned to you on your first court date. If you miss your court date, you surrender the money to the state.




The circuit clerk will assign your case to a courtroom around the same time your bail is set. The date of your arraignment will also be set, usually around 30 days after your arrest. During

the interim period, the county will assign a prosecutor.


If you have been charged with a felony, the prosecution will arrange a draft indictment for presentation to a Grand Jury. This is a process that ensures your constitutional rights are being protected. A jury of 18 will decide if there is sufficient evidence that a crime has been committed, and if there is a reasonable suspicion that you were the individual who committed the crime.


Your arraignment is not your official trial. Instead, you are required to appear before a judge for a formal notification of the charges and punishments levied against you.

During this time, the discovery portion of your case begins. During this time the prosecution will collect, review, and catalogue the evidence against you. A judge will set your future court dates to ensure your trial proceeds in a timely way.


Trial Phase


Defendants can choose from a jury trial or a bench trial. During the trial, both sides will have the opportunity to present evidence and call and cross examine witnesses.




Chicago Criminal Defense Lawyer

After both sides have presented their case, the prosecution will argue for what they believe will be the appropriate sentence, also introducing evidence of past criminal history. The defense will argue for what they believe is the appropriate sentence, as well as introducing any mitigating evidence. Following these arguments, the judge will impose the sentence he or she has decided is appropriate.


Of course, as mentioned above, every case is different. If you have been charged with a crime and you want to know what you need to do next, the best way to protect your rights and freedom is to consult with an experienced Illinois criminal lawyer.


About the Author:


Andrew M. Weisberg is a former felony prosecutor who now serves as a defense attorney in the greater Chicago area. He has extensive experience in handling all types of criminal cases, from sex offenses and domestic violence to retail theft-related crimes, Murder, and drug crimes.


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