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Our Constitution was written to protect the innocent that may be accused of a crime. Although an offender may have witnesses against them or made a statement to the police, they still have a right to a fair trial. At trial, the State of Illinois is required to show the evidence and testimony proving beyond a reasonable doubt the defendant's guilt. All offenders accused of a criminal act regardless of witnesses or evidence against them, are viewed innocent by the criminal court until they either plea guilty in court or are proven guilty by trial.
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A defense attorney represents the defendant (the person accused and charged with the crime), and the interests of the defendant in a criminal case. A public defender is a court appointed defense attorney for defendants who can not afford to hire an attorney.
The defendant is the individual who is accused of committing a crime and is being charged with the offense/crime that is being prosecuted in criminal court.
A bond hearing is held after the defendant is arrested. A judge determines whether the defendant is a danger to society and/or whether he/she will return to court for future court dates. The more serious the charge, the higher the bond usually is. Once the bond amount is set, the defendant can post 10% to be released from custody. For example: a $10,000 bond would require the person in custody posting $1,000 to be released. The court can impose specific conditions be placed on the defendant’s bond such as a curfew, no contact with the victim, etc. Defendants out on bond are monitored by Lake County Pre-trial Services. Although bond is usually set in the early stages of the criminal case, the defense can ask for a bond review or modification of bond on future court dates.
Criminal charges result after an individual commits a crime. They are prosecuted by the State of Illinois in the criminal courts. It is the State of Illinois vs. the defendant. If found guilty, the court determines what punishment the defendant is going to face as a result of the crime. The criminal case is not attached to civil cases; they are two separate actions. A civil case is held in civil court, and both parties usually hire their own attorneys to determine monetary remedies.
In felony cases, a preliminary hearing is held in open court to determine if there is “probable cause” (enough to charge the person) with criminal charges. A police officer will briefly testify, and the Judge determines if the State’s Attorneys Office has enough to charge the defendant with the requested charges.
The Grand Jury is a group of citizens selected from a jury pool that listens to a brief testimony to determine if the State of Illinois has enough “probable cause” to charge a person with criminal charges. The Grand Jury is a closed proceeding unlike a preliminary hearing. It is usually reserved for serious felony cases. This is not a proceeding to determine guilt or innocence. It is merely to determine probable cause to charge the offender with a crime.
An indictment is when the Grand Jury finds probable cause to charge the defendant.
An arraignment is a court hearing where the defendant is present, formally charged with the crime, and informed of their legal rights. Most defendants charged with violent felony crimes will plead not guilty initially at the arraignment date and be given future court dates to appear.
A defendant can have several pre-trial dates. These are status dates that allow both the prosecution and defense to exchange paperwork and information in an effort to get closer to a resolution through a change of plea or eventually, going to trial.
The decision is the defendant's to make. They have the right to go to trial. If the defendant chooses to go to trial, it is the defendant’s choice whether it is a trial by jury (12 people) or a bench trial, (judge decides the verdict).
The purpose of a trial is to determine whether or not the defendant is guilty or not guilty of the charges filed against him/her. If the defendant were to plea guilty, a trial does not happen. It is the decision of the defendant whether it is a trial by jury (12 people selected from the jury pool of citizens on jury duty) or a bench trial (Judge only, no jury). If trial by jury, the jury decides guilt or innocence of the defendant. A finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt has to be a unanimous vote by all 12 jurors. The jury is then released. The Judge who presides over the jury trial determines the sentence on a later date. If a verdict of not guilty is found, the case ends there and no further court hearings are needed.
A sentencing hearing is scheduled after a defendant either pleads guilty, changes his plea from a not guilty to a plea of guilty, or after a jury finds the defendant guilty of the charges. At the sentencing hearing, the Judge determines what is going to happen to the defendant as a result of committing the crime. Sentences can vary depending on the crime committed and a variety of factors are taken into account. Violent crimes victims have the right to present a victim impact statement during the hearing.
The pre-sentence investigation is like a biography on the defendant’s life and criminal history. It is a confidential report that only the prosecutor, defense attorney, and judge is allowed to read. The report is written by a special unit in the Lake County Probation Department and may contain a victim analysis section summarizing the impact the crime had on the victim(s).
A plea agreement is when both sides, the prosecution and the defense, agree that the defendant will voluntarily give up their right to a trial and admit their guilt by pleading guilty to the criminal charge(s) before the judge. In doing so, the defendant will be agreeing to all the conditions set out in the plea agreement. The Judge can either accept the plea agreement or reject it. If the defendant pleas guilty there would not be a trial to determine guilt or innocence.
The main difference or impact on the defendant is the sentencing range. A misdemeanor maximum time is served in the local jail. A felony maximum time can be incarceration in the Department of Corrections (prison). A convicted felon may be excluded from certain jobs.
The defendant will be transported to prison from the Lake County Jail. Inmates in prison can be tracked on the Illinois Department of Corrections website. It will show which prison facility the offender will be housed, which county he was sentenced in, and his tentative release date will be posted. You can also request in writing to be notified of the defendant’s status, or sign up with the automated victim notification system to be notified of changes in the inmate status.
Each sentence varies depending on the crime. Additionally, offenders can receive credit for time served while in custody awaiting disposition. Most crimes are served at 50%. Some violent crimes are served at higher percentages. First degree murder is the only crime that is served at 100% of the sentence. It is best to get a full explanation of potential incarceration time from the prosecutor who handled the case.