General Information about Felony Offenses
This page deals with general information about felony offenses in the criminal justice system. It will explain some of the major steps that you and our court appointed attorney will be involved in, as well as some of the legal terms that will be used in court.
This site only contains general information. It is still necessary for you to consult with your attorney, who can advise you specifically about your case.
At a bond hearing, the ONLY issue to be determined is what amount, if any, you must post in order to be released from jail while your criminal charges are pending. Guilt or innocence will not be determined at this stage, and you will not be presenting any defense. It is very important not to speak carelessly at this hearing, since anything you say in court might be used against you at trial.
Your court appointed attorney will speak to you in jail and will ask you some questions about your personal history, such as your age, family, education, employment, special medical needs, and other factors. This information may be helpful for your attorney in obtaining your release.
At the bond hearing, the state's attorney will inform the judge of the charges against you and your criminal background. Your lawyer will tell the judge some of your personal background information. Based on this information, the judge will determine bond.
There are three possible outcomes of a bond hearing.
- The judge could release you on your own recognizance, meaning you will not need to post any money.
- The judge could set a bond amount, and usually you will be required to post 10% of that amount to be released.
- Finally, in some cases the judge could order you held without bond, meaning that no amount of money will secure your release, and you will be held in jail until your case is handled.
No matter what your bond is set at, you will be required to come to court for every court date in your case. If you fail to appear at any time, the judge will issue a warrant for your arrest, even if you have a very good excuse for not coming to court. If you miss any court date, contact your lawyer immediately!
Additionally, there could be conditions imposed by the judge. It is very important not to violate any conditions of your bail, as it could result in bond being increased or revoked altogether. Such conditions could include orders to stay away from certain people or places, a curfew, orders not to leave the state, etc.
Probable Cause Hearing
If you have been charged with a felony, your case must be reviewed to determine if there is probable cause to show that:
- A crime has been committed, and
- The crime was committed by you.
Probable cause might be found by either a judge or a Grand Jury (during a process called indictment).
At a preliminary hearing, the prosecutor will present evidence before a judge, at which time you and your lawyer are allowed to be present and ask limited questions of the state's witnesses. Like bond hearings, your innocence or guilt will not be determined here. If the judge finds probable cause, your case will be held over for trial in felony court. If no probable cause is found, the charges will be dismissed. Although it is possible for the state to ask a grand jury for an indictment at that point, this is not usual. Transcripts of the preliminary hearing will be made available to your attorney, which you may review with him/her.
If the State chooses to present to a Grand Jury for an indictment, then the Grand Jury determines what charges, if any, to file against you. Only the State can decide whether or not to go before the Grand Jury.
Preparing Your Case
Preparing your case includes a process known as "discovery". This is an exchange of information between your attorney and the State. Your attorney will request the State to turn over certain information about your case, including the details of the offense charged, names of witnesses the State may call at trial, any other evidence that supports the charge, as well as any information the State has which may help prove your innocence. Similarly, your lawyer must turn over to the State, upon the State's request, the names of any witnesses your attorney may call at trial, and the nature of your defense.
This does not mean that your attorney will disclose confidential information that you have shared. Generally speaking, what you discuss with your lawyer is confidential and will not be disclosed to the State or the judge.
You may view any materials that your attorney gathers through discovery, but court rules require the attorney to keep those materials in his or her possession. You will not be allowed to take these materials with you.
It is very important that you inform your attorney of anything that may help your case at trial, including the names of witnesses, any records or documents, or other facts that your attorney must know to provide you with the best possible defense.
Whether you choose to lead guilty or not guilty is entirely up to you. If you wish to plead guilty and not contest the charges against you, your lawyer will try to obtain the most favorable possible sentence for you.
Your attorney will speak to the state's attorney about any offers the State may have for you in exchange for a guilty plea.You are not required to accept any offer from the State. Your attorney has a duty to inform you of any offer that the State presents, and while your lawyer will advise you of the consequences of accepting an offer, you may accept or reject these offers as you see fit. If you do accept an offer, the offer must then be approved by the judge.
Sometimes, your attorney might ask the judge to participate in the bargaining process. This is known as a "402 Conference," where the judge, the prosecutor, and your attorney will discuss your case, including details of the charges and your personal background. Then, the judge will tell your attorney what sentence you will receive if you plead guilty.
If you do not choose to accept an offer, your case will proceed to trial.
This is the stage where your actual innocence or guilt is determined. You will have the choice of whether to have your case determined by a jury of twelve people or by a judge (also known as a "bench trial"). Your attorney will advise you about each kind of trial so you may make your decision.
At trial, both the State and your attorney will present evidence and question witnesses. The State must prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to be convicted. If you are found not guilty, your case is over. If you are found guilty, you will proceed to sentencing.
In Illinois felony courts, a sentence can range from probation to imprisonment in the Department of corrections, or even the death penalty, depending on the nature of the crime involved, your criminal history, and other factors.
You are entitled to a pre-sentence investigation (PSI) to be prepared and submitted to the judge. The PSI will contain information about your personal life, family, education, employment, ties to the community, and any relevant medical information such as drug abuse or alcoholism. Also, your lawyer can present other information that you feel may influence the judge in determining your sentence in your favor.
In Illinois, you do have the right to appeal your conviction. An Appellate Court would review your case to see if the trial court made any errors in court rules or evidence that would affect your conviction. Generally, issues raised on appeal are very technical and complex, and there are no guarantees that the Appellate Court would reverse your conviction. Any appeals should be discussed with our attorney.
How You Can Help Yourself
Talk to your attorney. It is your responsibility to make an appointment to speak to your attorney - he/she will not track you down to make one for you. It is important that you tell your attorney anything that may help your case, especially information about witnesses, including their names, phone numbers, and what they may have seen.
Do NOT discuss your case with ANYONE other than your attorney! This means do not speak with the police, State's Attorney, jail guards, the press, or your cell mate. If anyone tries to talk to you about your case, tell your lawyer immediately. If they really can help you, your attorney will know what to do.
Be on time for court, and dress appropriately. Try to wear business clothing. Do not wear clothing that is dirty, ripped, innapropriate or otherwise unsuitable for court. Even if it is not a trial day, many judges get upset with defendants who are either late or do not dress for court.
Never miss a court date! If you are not present, a judge will issue a warrant for your arrest, even if you have a good reason. If you miss court, contact your attorney as soon as possible.