If you are facing criminal charges in Illinois for the first time, it can be a stressful and even frightening experience. The criminal justice system can feel overwhelming, especially if you are unaware of what the process will be before your case has reached some sort of resolution. The following are some of the general criminal law terms that you may hear during this process. For more detailed information about your particular situation, consider speaking with a DuPage County criminal defense attorney from our firm.
The arraignment is where a defendant has their first court appearance following their arrest. There will be a formal reading of the charges that have been brought against them and they will enter their plea (not guilty, guilty, or no contest). The arraignment is also where the judge will set a bail amount, as well as issue any restrictions should the defendant be released. Following the arraignment, the defendant will be remanded until they post bail.
The next hearing is usually the pretrial hearing. This is where the defense attorney and prosecutor will exchange evidence they will be presenting at trial. This is referred to as discovery. If either side has any motions they want to file (i.e. suppression of evidence, dismissal of charges), they will also present to the judge during this hearing.
If a defendant has been charged with a felony offense, there will also be a preliminary hearing. At this hearing, the court will decide if the prosecutor has provided enough evidence to show the defendant committed the crime they are charged with. If not, the judge can dismiss the charges. If the judge dismisses “without prejudice,” this means the charges can be refiled if the prosecutor comes up with more evidence. “With prejudice” means the charges cannot be refiled no matter what type of evidence is later found.
If there is sufficient evidence and the case will move forward, the court refers to this as “held to answer.” The court will then set a date for the trial to begin.
The majority of trials are jury trials. A jury is selected by both the prosecutor and defense attorney. The evidence is presented to the jury, who will then decide the defendant’s guilt. If the jury finds a defendant not guilty, they are free to go and cannot be tried again on those same charges. If the jury finds a defendant guilty, the judge could either sentence the defendant immediately or continue the case for sentencing at a later date.
Some defendants choose to have a court or bench trial. This is where the judge is the only one who hears all the evidence and then decides whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty.
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