In most instances, the criminal justice process begins when an arrest is made following the commission of a crime. The State’s Attorney’s Office reviews the evidence and determines whether to file a felony (juvenile) or misdemeanor charge. You will be notified by a letter from this office when charges have been filed.
After a felony charge has been filed, the case will go to a preliminary hearing or the grand jury. If the case goes to a preliminary hearing a judge examines the case and determines whether there is sufficient evidence to bind the defendant over for trial. Most cases will be presented to a grand jury before the preliminary hearing date. If at least 9 of 16 grand jurors determine there is sufficient evidence against the defendant, an indictment is returned and the case proceeds to trial.
After the court or grand jury decides there is enough evidence against the defendant to hold him over for trial, the defendant appears before the court to plead either guilty or not guilty. This hearing is called the arraignment. If the defendant pleads not guilty, the judge assigns a trial date for the case.
The State’s Attorney presents the case on behalf of the People and the defendant is represented by a defense attorney. The defendant may also choose to represent himself at trial. The defendant has the option to have a bench trial or a jury trial. A bench trial is before the judge and the judge decides whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty. A jury trial is before 12 jurors who decide whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty and this verdict must be unanimous. If you are needed to testify you will be issued a notice for subpoena to be in court at the trial.
If the defendant is found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the judge will set a court date to impose a sentence. The sentence can include fines, probation, jail time or a prison term. If the defendant is found not guilty, then he or she is acquitted and if in custody, he or she will be released.