The arrest occurs after the police have either conducted an investigation that results in the approval of felony charges against the arrestee; or, after the police have observed the arrestee commit an act that gives rise to felony charges. The arrestee is brought to the respective police station and awaits a bond hearing.
This stage generally involves the interviewing of witnesses, the questioning of the arrestee, and the gathering of evidence among others.
The arrestee will next find himself, or herself, brought before a judge in order to have a hearing on the bond. The purpose of a bond is to insure that the accused will appear for his scheduled court hearings should he be released after posting his bond. At the hearing the State is represented by a prosecutor who will inform the judge of the nature of the charge, some of the facts, and the accused's criminal record. The accused will be represented by either his own privately hired attorney or a court appointed attorney (in most cases) who will make arguments for a reasonable and low bond. After hearing arguments from both sides, the judge will set a bond in what he/she has determined is an appropriate monetary amount. In the event that the accused can post bond he will be released from custody. If the accused cannot post bond then the accused will remain in custody throughout the proceedings of the prosecution.
Preliminary Hearing/Grand Jury Indictment
Shortly after the bond hearing, the accused will find himself before the court in order to determine whether there was probable cause for his arrest and whether the case against the accused should proceed. Note that this is not to determine guilt or innocence, but merely whether there is enough evidence for the case to go forward. There are two ways in which this may occur: the first is called a preliminary hearing (some states call these probable cause hearings); and, second, a grand jury indictment.
Preliminary Hearings: this is a formal hearing where the State will present evidence against the accused in support of the charges. The accused is represented by his/her attorney who will have the opportunity to question the State's witnesses.
Grand Jury Indictment: This is a process where a grand jury takes the place of the judge and determines whether there is enough evidence for the prosecution to go further. This is a closed session to the accused and his/her attorney.
Assuming that the accused has either been indicted by the grand jury, or probable cause has been found by a judge, the next stage in the process is known as an arraignment. An arraignment is a court hearing where the accused finds himself before the judge who will hear the case to the end, as well as the prosecutor--the attorney representing the State--who is responsible for prosecuting the matter.
It is at the arraignment that the accused enters a plea of not guilty. Generally, it is at the arraignment that the accused's attorney will file a motion for discovery (a formal request that the State turn over all the evidence they hold against the accused).
Following the accused's plea of not guilty, the court will set the matter for a status hearing.
The Status Hearing
The status hearing is exactly what the name implies: a hearing where the court makes inquiry as to the status of the case. This is where the State and the Defense inform the Court whether all of the evidence has been disclosed to the other party after a formal request has been made. Likewise, it is when additional motions are filed by either party. In the event that either party indicates that more evidence is requested or will be forthcoming the matter is again continued for another status hearing. If a motion has been filed the matter will be set for a hearing on the motion. Following the hearing on the motion, the matter will again be set for a status hearing.
This is probably the most frustrating process for an accused as the matter can be continued for numerous status hearings (depending on the nature and complexity of the case) which could result in months of waiting.
To Fight or Plead Guilty
Once all of the evidence has been disclosed by both sides, and all motions have been heard and decided, the accused will have to decide whether he/she wishes to fight the case at trial; i.e., demand that the State prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt; or, having reviewed the evidence against him/her with their attorney, decide to negotiate a "deal" with the State in return for changing their plea from not guilty to guilty.
If after speaking with their attorney it appears that the State has sufficient evidence to prove the case against them, the accused's attorney will meet with the State's attorney to discuss a possible plea agreement. This is often called a plea bargain, because the State will often offer a lighter sentence (punishment) because they will not have to go through the process of trial, which in many cases can be quite long and labor intensive. Often, when the State does not agree to offer what would amount to a "reasonable" deal in the opinion of the accused, the accused may request a conference pursuant to Supreme Court 402, where their attorney and the State will meet in private with the judge and present the facts of the case, the accused's background, and arguments as to an appropriate sentence. The judge will then render what is in his opinion an appropriate sentence. The accused can either accept or reject the judge's recommendation. Should he reject, the matter is set for trial.
In the event that the accused rejects the judge's recommendation for a sentence, or requests trial, he will have the option of either a bench trial or a jury trial.
A bench trial is where a judge hears testimony and evidence and determines guilt or innocence. There is no jury.
A jury trial is where a sworn group of individuals hear the testimony of witnesses and wiegh the evidence against the accuse and determine guilt or innocence.
Following a trial, if the accused is found to be not guilty (acquitted) then the case is over and he walks free. If the accused is found to be guilty then he will find himself before the court at a sentenceing hearing where the judge will punish the accused accordingly.
Following a guilty verdict, or accepting a plea agreement, the accused will find himself at a sentencing hearing. The sentence will be determined by the classification of the offense as well as aggravating or mitigating factors. For example, the range of a sentence for a felonies in Illinois is generally:
Class X: 6-30 years prison
Class 1: 4-15 years prison
Class 2: 3-7 years prison
Class 3: 2-5 years prison
Class 4: 1-3 years prison
In some cases, the accused will be eligible for probation. In other cases, he will not. Likewise, in some cases the accused may be convicted to an enhanced penalty that exceeds the aforementioned sentence range for a given class of felony.
In the event that there is a legal basis for overturning the convicton (more than just the accused's personal belief that they were screwed by the system) the convict may appeal the sentence. In order to do so the convict will be required to file a written motion with the court.