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The Illinois Felony Process

The Illinois state legislature creates the states criminal code. This means that an Illinois felony may have a different definition and punishment from the same crime in another state.

If you are accused of committing a felony in Illinois, you will want to attempt to understand the Illinois felony process. You will also want to contact a criminal defense attorney to help you devise a defense strategy.

Illinois Felony Basics

There are two main categories of crimes: felonies and misdemeanors.

A misdemeanor is a lesser crime against the state. It usually entails such punishments as jail sentences of less than a year, small fines, or community service. Examples of misdemeanors include:

  • Trespassing
  • Vandalism
  • Public intoxication
  • Prostitution
  • Speeding

Felonies, on the other hand, are more severe crimes. These crimes are usually punishable by a year or more in prison and heftier fines. Examples of Illinois felonies include:

  • Murder
  • Kidnapping
  • Rape
  • Robbery
  • Burglary
  • Arson

The Arrest

The first step in the Illinois felony process is the arrest. This is usually preceded by an investigation or a search. For a police officer to conduct a search, he or she does not necessarily need a warrant, which is legal permission to conduct the search.

For example, if you leave evidence of a crime in plain view of the officer, the officer does not need a search warrant to view the object. The same applies if you consent to a search.

The officer will then make an arrest once he or she has what is known as probable cause. Probable cause means that he or she has a reasonable belief that you committed a crime.

At the point of arrest, you will be able to exercise certain rights afforded to you by the U.S. Constitution. Specifically, you will have the right to remain silent. This means that you are allowed to refrain from answering the investigator's questions so as to not incriminate yourself. You will also have the right to an attorney. This means that you will be allowed to make a phone call to contact your attorney.

If you cannot afford an attorney, you will be assigned a public defender. A public defender is a government-paid lawyer who will represent you in your Illinois felony case.

The Arraignment

Shortly after the arrest, you will be arraigned. Arraignment is when the charges against you are formally read in court. It is here that you will enter your plea.

Prior to the arraignment, you and your Illinois criminal defense attorney may choose to hold a meeting with the prosecution. At this meeting, you may be able to strike a plea agreement. A plea agreement is when you, the defendant, agree to plead guilty to lesser charges. This way you guarantee yourself a reduced sentence.

If no plea agreement is made, you will continue on to trial depending on your plea. The types of pleas available to you during the Illinois felony process are:

  • Guilty plea: This means that you accept the facts of the case as true and that you admit you committed the crime.
  • Not guilty plea: This means that you deny committing the crime. A trial will be set after entering a not guilty plea.
  • No-contest plea: This means that you are not admitting guilt; however, you are also not disputing the charges. This plea is used when you foresee a related civil suit arising against you.
  • Mute plea: This means you do not vocally enter a plea. The court will enter a not guilty plea. This is used when you do not wish to admit to the correctness of the felony process up to that point, providing you with an opportunity to attack these earlier proceedings.

The Trial

According to Illinois law, if you do not admit guilt at the time of the arraignment, you will have a trial within 120 to 160 days of your arrest.

Prior to the trial, you and your attorney should have discussed the facts of your case and devised a defense. The type of defense you choose to use will depend in large part on the facts of your case, including the type of felony you are accused of committing.

A jury will decide whether to find you guilty or not guilty of the crime. If found guilty, a judge will set a sentencing date. It is at the sentencing hearing where you will find out the extent of your punishment.

If you wish to dispute your conviction, you will generally have 30 days after the judgment to file an appeal.