Illinois Criminal Court Process

If you’ve been arrested and charged with a crime, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. Regardless of the nature of the offense, you may be uncertain about what to expect and have many questions about the criminal court process. From the initial investigation to trial, the Illinois criminal court process can be complex and intimidating, which is why it is important to work with an experienced defense lawyer. Having a skilled defense lawyer by your side as early as possible can help you secure the best outcome possible in your case.

Though each case is unique, most criminal cases following a fairly standard timeline of events. In Illinois, the stages of a criminal case generally include:

Police investigation. The criminal court process usually begins with a police investigation or a traffic stop. A police investigation may involve questioning or conducting searches of a person’s home, business, or other property.

Arrest. In order to make an arrest, police officers must have probable cause to believe that a person has committed a crime. Once an individual is taken into custody and placed under arrest, the police must issue a Miranda warning, which includes the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney.

Bond or Bail Hearings. After it is determined that there are sufficient grounds to file charges, the accused will be given a hearing to set bail, which is referred to as bond court. During this stage of the process, the judge will determine whether someone is eligible for release and the bond amount as well as any other conditions of release. Your attorney can present reasons why you should be eligible for release and arguments for a lower bond amount. If you are able to post bond, you will be released from custody.

Preliminary Hearing vs. Grand Jury. For felony offenses, the accused must be formally charged with a crime through either a preliminary hearing or grand jury.

  • In a preliminary hearing, the prosecution will present a summary of the state’s evidence to a judge who will determine whether there is probable cause that the person has committed the offense for which he or she has been charged. If the judge determines finds that there is sufficient evidence, the defendant is formally charged by an information.
  • In a grand jury hearing, a jury of 16 people determines whether there is probable cause to believe that the defendant committed the crime alleged. If the grand jury determines that there is sufficient evidence, the defendant is formally charged via an indictment.

Arraignment. At an arraignment, the judge will inform the defendant of the formal charges against him or her and the possible penalties if convicted. At this point, the defendant must enter a plea of “guilty” or “not guilty.” You have the right to consult with a lawyer before you enter a plea, and a judge should postpone your arraignment until you are able to obtain a qualified criminal defense lawyer. Once the defendant enters a plea of not guilty, the discovery phase will begin and your defense attorney will begin preparing for trial.

Pre-trial Preparation and Trial

  • Discovery – The discovery phase allows the defendant’s attorney the opportunity to review the prosecution’s evidence against his or her client. This could include police reports, witness statements, videos or photos, physical evidence, or any other relevant information.
  • Pre-trial Preparation – During this phase, the defense attorney will begin locating and interviewing witnesses, developing a defense strategy, securing evidence that may be presented at trial on your behalf.
  • Plea Bargains – At any point before a verdict is rendered, the defense attorney, defendant, and prosecution may enter into negotiations regarding a plea bargain. The terms of the plea bargain will vary greatly depending on the specific circumstances of the crime, the defendant’s criminal history, and the strength of the prosecution’s evidence.
  • Trial – If the case proceeds to trial, the defendant gets to elect whether he or she wants a bench or a jury trial. The jury determines the outcome in a jury trial whereas a judge makes the final decision regarding guilty or innocence in a bench trial. While both sides will present evidence at trial, it is the prosecution that bears the burden of proof. The state must prove that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Verdict. After the prosecution and defense present their closing arguments, either the judge or jury will deliberate and then issue a verdict. If the defendant is found not guilty, the case is over. If the defendant is found guilty, the case will proceed to the sentencing phase.

Sentencing Hearing. After the defendant is found guilty at trial or enters a guilty plea, the judge will impose a sentence, which may be based on information contained in the pre-sentence investigation report and recommendations from the prosecution and defense.

Appeals. If there were errors in the case that led to a conviction or unfair sentence, you have the right to appeal your case to an appellate court.

Experienced Representation for Your Chicago Criminal Case

At O’Meara Law LLC, attorney O’Meara understands how devastating a criminal charge can be and he is here to help guide you throughout the Illinois criminal court process. O’Meara has over 20 years of legal experience and he has defended clients against virtually every type of criminal charge. He will take the time to explain your legal options and fight to secure the best possible outcome for your case.

Contact O’Meara Law LLC today at to learn more about how we can help.