Written by attorney Vijay Ratan Sharma

Timeline of a Case: Arrest to Appeal

Timeline of a case

A criminal case has its own life. It has a specific timeline that follows; this can be fairly confusing to someone new to the system.

First for the sake of clarity, a States Attorney, District Attorney, and County Prosecutor are the same thing so I will use State’s Attorney because that is the title in Illinois.

Now let’s say there’s an armed robbery of a 7-11. A victim will call the police, and then police need to determine who committed the crime. To investigate a crime, police can come up to a citizen and ask about the crime. An issue can be if they detain someone to ask about a crime.

Let’s say an arrest takes place. An arrestee is brought into booking. The arrestee’s name, time of arrest, mug shot and fingerprints are taken. Any statement from the arrestee is also taken at this time. As I have said before, no good can ever come from giving a statement. If you are arrested, ask to speak to an attorney and then SHUT UP!

The police may charge him. If 10 witnesses say the arrestee committed the crime then an arrest is ok. Or a lineup, interrogation, hair samples or fingernail clippings may be necessary.

The police will then bring in an Assistant State’s Attorney from the felony review unit. Felonies must be reviewed and approved by an Assistant State’s Attorney. An old professor of mine said once that said 30%-50% of the charges are dropped. In my experience this number is much too high. The only way for this number to make sense is that prosecutors may accept a guilty plea and dismiss other charges.

What happens next is a bond hearing. An arrested person has to see a Judge within 48 hours .15 years ago the US Supreme Court decided on 48 hours out of thin air. Many times a paper complaint is signed by an arresting officer or a witness attesting to the alleged offense

A State's Attorney presents a complaint to Judge. The State will explain the charge and facts to the Judge and request a bond to be set. A defense attorney will discuss the Defendant’s background and present evidence or explain how the Defendant is not A) a flight risk and B) not a danger to the community. The Judge will then set a bond amount. Let’s say a Judge sets a bond for $50,000.00 bond. A bond may be a C-Bond, D-Bond, or I-Bond. A C-Bond is a cash bond, meaning $50,000.00 has to be posted. A D-Bond requires posting of 10% of the bond. Finally, an I-Bond releases a Defendant on his own individual recognizance and does not require the posting of money.

After a bond hearing we will assume a Defendant can make bail. The case will then be set for a preliminary hearing or a Defendant will be indicted by a grand jury. A common saying is that a grand jury will indict a ham sandwich. I have never seen them not indict a case, though I have heard of it. A grand jury is 16-23 people and this is an ex parte proceeding and it is more of an informal proceeding. There are only see State's Attorney and cops. There isn’t a Defendant or counsel. There are also no rules of evidence and 93-99% are accepted.

After a preliminary hearing, assuming the State has shown probable cause for an arrest, felony information is issued by a Judge. A preliminary hearing is an adversarial proceeding where witnesses are brought in and can be cross examined to a limited extent by defense counsel. Many times it is a good chance to preview the State's case and to stick a witness to their sworn testimony.

After a preliminary hearing there is an arraignment. The indictment is formally filed by the State in open Court. These are the formal charging papers. It will be signed by the foreman of the grand jury or the Assistant State's Attorney. The arraignment is also where a Defendant is told his basic rights and he can have his charges formally read aloud. Also, a Defendant will enter a formal plea of not guilty.

After this stage, there may be several, one, or no pretrial motions. Some motions may include the following:

  • A Motion to dismiss
  • A Motions for a bill of particulars

    • This requests more detail than what has already been provided.
  • Motion for a new Judge

    • The Defendant gets one as a matter of right.
  • Motion for change of venue

  • Motion to suppress evidence on 4thAmendment grounds

  • Motion to suppress confessions based on the 5thAmendment

    • The burden will then fall on the State to prove by preponderance to show that a confession is legal.

There can also be many more motions or the case may be plead out short of trial.

After pre-trial motions comes the trial. A trial may be by Judge or jury, the choice is up to a Defendant. A case is tried in Circuit Court and perhaps 5%-10% of cases go to trial.

In a criminal trial, a Defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In practicality, the State does win a high majority of its cases.

A typical trial will have the State present its reasons for finding a Defendant guilty first. They will make an opening statement which will act as a sneak preview to the evidence they will put on. Then they will call their witnesses, typically arresting officers and eyewitnesses. Each witness is cross-examined by the defense. After this, the State will rest their case.

The Defendant may then present their side of the case. They can choose not to. If the defense feels that the State has not proven their case after all of the State’s evidence has been heard, then they will ask for a directed finding. Meaning that the State hasn’t proven their case, therefore the defense does not need to present a defense.

If the motion for directed finding is denied, then the defense will present their case and witnesses. After the close of the defense case, both sides will present their closing arguments.

A Judge or jury will deliberate and find the Defendant guilty or not guilty.

Assuming the finding is guilty, next comes sentencing. A Judge will look at aggravating and mitigating evidence, such as if the Defendant is a repeat offender or is an upstanding member of the community. Sentencing in Illinois is not as complex as the federal system, but it is growing.

After sentencing comes the Appeal. A Defendant may appeal within 30 days of a verdict. Many attorneys immediately file a notice of appeal on a conviction. The closest Appellate Court is the 1st District which is located on LaSalle in Chicago. The state is divided into 5 Districts. Cook County is its own district. An appellate court will look at the trial record and transcripts. any filed papers. The court does not hear new evidence, they are bound by the record.

If the appellate court is a loss then it is onto the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court can choose to hear a case or not. One exception is in death penalty cases. After this level, the only other place to go is the US Supreme Court, depending on the issues.

An issue may be if a Defendant states that his trial attorney didn’t look at all witnesses and therefore was ineffective.

These are issues in the larger post-conviction process. Basically, a Defendant can't raise an issue already raised and addressed previously and a Defendant can't raise a new issue that should’ve ben raised in a previous hearing because it may be waived. So, the only issues that are impossible to waive are Ineffective assistance of counsel and whether a prosecutor withheld evidence.

If all these proceedings are lost then the last shot is a Federal Habeas corpus petition. This is a Federal prosecution that is a suit against the warden or head of the department of corrections. The caption in the case would be Jones v. Smith because it is a civil case. The Defendant must show that State is holding him in violation of Federal, not State, Constitutional rights by a preponderance. The claim must be raised in Federal Court, because every the State Court has been exhausted by this point. While the case law was narrow, it was expanded in the 1950’s-1960’s.

In a very simplistic nutshell, that is a timeline of a case.

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