What is the Criminal Law Process in Illinois?

The criminal justice system can be an intimidating and daunting experience, especially if your freedom, reputation, and future are on the line.  There are many phases to a criminal prosecution.  While the process and rules of court will differ between counties, the overall process will remain the same statewide.


There are many requirements law enforcement must follow in order to legally arrest someone.  First would be a warrant or an exception to the warrant requirement.  Regardless of the technical procedure followed, probable cause must exist to make an arrest.


Bail is the amount of money you may have to pay in order to be released pending the outcome of your case.  You may be released on your own reconnaissance, which means the court trusts you to appear in court.

Under Illinois law, anyone arrested for a felony is entitled to a bond hearing shortly after arrest, usually within 24-48 hours.  Some misdemeanors may have a pre-set bond amount.  Bond may be denied also if the court finds that it is too risky to release you on the reasoning that you will likely not reappear to face the charges against you.


An arraignment is the court proceeding where a plea is entered.  Here, the court reads the charges against you and you either plead guilty or not guilty to those charges.

Plea Agreement

Rather than go to trial, a case may be “plead out” by negotiating a plea agreement with the prosecutor.  This agreement will likely be a lesser charge in exchange for a guilty plea.

Preliminary Hearings

To commence prosecution, a complaint, information, or indictment must be filed.  There may be other preliminary hearings to determine the admissibility of evidence or other preliminary matters not decided by a jury.


If a jury trial is to commence, the next step is to select a jury.  Each side will be allowed to question the jury and have a certain number of “strikes” at its disposal to excuse potential jurors

Once the jury is selected, each side makes an opening statement that outlines the case and what they will assert during the trial.  After opening statements are given, the prosecution presents its case.  This entails presenting evidence and calling witnesses.  The prosecution will examine the witnesses first, then the defense will have a chance to cross-examine that witness, and after that the prosecution can re-examine its witness during redirect.

At this point, the defense will be able to file a motion to dismiss on the claim that the prosecution has failed to prove all the elements of the crime.  This motion will either be granted or denied by the court.  If denied, the defense proceeds with their case.  The process for presentation of the defense is the same as the prosecution; there is presentation of evidence, examination, cross-examination, and redirect of witnesses.

Once the defense rests its case, the prosecution can then present a rebuttal.  Once each side has exhausted its presentation opportunities, both sides participate in creating the jury instructions.

Before these instructions are given, the prosecution offers its closing arguments, followed by the defense’s closing arguments, and lastly the prosecution’s rebuttal.  Then the jury is instructed and convenes to deliberate and decide the case.  If the verdict is not guilty, the defendant is acquitted of all charges.

If found guilty, the defense can move the court to vacate the judgment, which basically means the defense asks the court to override the jury in favor of a new trial or dismissal.  If denied, the next phase in the criminal law process is sentencing.

The above outline is a very simplified version of the criminal law process.  It is a very complex process that occurs within a very complex justice system.  For more specific information and assistance, contact a qualified Illinois Criminal Defense Attorney.

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