Criminal Procedure Timeline

If you are facing charges for the first time, you are probably concerned about what is going to happen. Every situation is different, and the factors of each case have an impact on what transpires. Furthermore, the timeline for what takes place after an arrest depends on whether the offense is a misdemeanor or felony. The following are the basic steps of criminal procedure:

  • Incident. Every involvement with the criminal justice system begins with an alleged violation of the law. Police officers may see a violation occur, or they may be informed by someone else that a violation occurred.
  • Police contact. After an incident, the police will make contact with the accused. If the police did not see the violation occur, this will be part of their investigation into the charges.
  • Release or Arrest. The police officers must determine if there is probable cause for an arrest. If there is probable cause, the police officers will arrest the alleged offender. Each officer can use discretion to determine if the offender should be arrested or released. Even with probable cause, an officer may choose to continue to investigate before an arrest is made. Officers can also determine that there is no evidence for making an arrest. If an arrest is made, the person must be read his/her Miranda rights.
  • Released without Charges, Felony Review or Charged with Misdemeanor. After an arrest, a suspect can either be released without any charges, charged with a misdemeanor or have a felony review. When a person is suspected of committing a felony, the prosecutor must review the charges and choose whether or not to approve them. If no crime is committed, or there is not sufficient evidence for charges, the suspect will be released without charges. Misdemeanors and felonies have different steps.

Misdemeanor Violation Procedure Steps Continued

  • Charges filed. Charges are a formal accusation of a crime. They must be filed within specific time frames depending on the offense.
  • Bond Hearing. Bond is often referred to as bail. It is a monetary deposit paid by the accused to ensure his/her appearance in court. A judge will set the bond. If bond is set and paid, the accused will be released and expected to appear in court at a later date. If no bond is set or paid, the accused will be put in jail until either bond is paid, or he/she appears in court.
  • Arraignment. The arraignment is the first court appearance for the accused after the bond hearing. At the arraignment, the charges are formally read to the defendant. Then the defendant enters a plea of either guilty or not guilty.
  • Specialty Court System or Trial. After arraignment, the case can either go through the specialty court system or to trial. Through the specialty court system, the judges, attorneys, social workers and probation officer work together to restore offenders as contributing members of society through treatment and supervision. In order to go through the specialty court system you must not have any convictions or pending charges for violent crimes. This is a voluntary situation and incentives of dismissed charges or avoiding incarceration are usually provided to encourage participation. If the defendant does not plead guilty, a trial will be held to determine whether or not the defendant is guilty of the crime charged. At a trial, the defendant shows evidence, calls witnesses and may testify to prove innocence.
  • Finding of Not Guilty or Sentencing. The trial can either determine that the defendant is not guilty and all charges are dropped, or the defendant is guilty and a sentence is imposed at a sentencing hearing. More than one sentence can be given.

Possible Sentences for Misdemeanor Violations

  • Court Supervision. Judgement is suspended for a period of time while the defendant completes certain court ordered obligations. At the end of the period, if all conditions are met, the defendant is released without a conviction. Usually fines and fees must be paid and any community service must be completed.
  • Probation. The offender is monitored by a probation officer for a specific period of time during which certain conditions must be met. Fines and fees must be paid, community service completed along with any other treatment programs required.
  • Conditional Discharge. Offenders must complete court ordered conditions, but do not have a probation officer. Fines and fees must be paid, and community service completed along with any other conditions. Unlike court supervision, this is a conviction even if all conditions are fulfilled.
  • Conviction with no court ordered supervision. Offenders can also receive home confinement, electronic monitoring, treatment, periodic imprisonment or jail. Misdemeanors can result in up to one year in jail. All fines and fees will also need to be paid.

Felony Violation Procedure Steps Continued

  • Bond Hearing. At a bond hearing, the judge will determine the amount of bond required. This is also often referred to as bail. The accused will pay a set amount of money to guarantee that he/she will appear in court at a future date. Until bond is set and paid, the accused will remain in custody.
  • Grand Jury or Preliminary Hearing. For felony offenses a grand jury must be called to decide upon whether to issue formal charges called an indictment. Prosecutors present evidence to the grand jury and then the grand jury determines if there is enough probable cause to issue an indictment. A prosecutor may also choose not to use a grand jury and instead have a preliminary hearing. If the hearing determines probable cause the prosecutor will file formal charges that take the place of a grand jury indictment.
  • No indictment, Indictment or Formal Charges. The grand jury can either decide on no indictment, in which case the accused will not be charged with a crime and is free to go, or to indict the offender. In this case, the accused is formally charged with a felony. The preliminary hearing can either determine that there is probable cause or not. If there is probable cause, the prosecutor will file formal charges.
  • Arraignment. During arraignment, the charges are read to the defendant, and the defendant must enter a plea of guilty or not guilty.
  • Specialty Court System, Plea of Guilty, Trial. After arraignment, depending on the plea entered, the case can either go to the specialty court system, sentencing or a trial. A plea of guilty will send the case directly to sentencing. The specialty court system involves judges, attorneys, probation officers and social workers all working together to facilitate treatment to the offender. This is a voluntary system that offers incentives of dismissed charges or avoiding incarceration to encourage participation. A trial can also occur. Trials determine whether the defendant is guilty of the crime. Defendants can present evidence, call witnesses and choose to testify at the trial to prove innocence.
  • Finding of Not Guilty or Sentencing. Trials result in a finding of guilty or not guilty. A guilty verdict will then lead to a sentencing hearing. Not guilty verdicts lead to dismissed charges and freedom.

Possible Sentences for Felony Violations

  • Probation. A probation officer will monitor the offender during a set time period. During this time the offender must meet certain requirements. Fines and fees must be paid.
  • Conditional Discharge. Offenders must meet court ordered requirements, but without a probation officer. Fines and fees must be paid and any community service completed.
  • Corrections. Felonies may have sentences of over one year in prison. The prison sentence is determined by the seriousness of the crime. Illinois has 22 correctional facilities with different levels of security. Fines and fees must also be paid.

Rights of Adults Accused of a Crime

Adults accused of crimes after several rights. When arrested, police officers must inform you of your Miranda rights. If you are accused of a crime in Illinois, you have the right to:

  • remain silent at every step of the investigation and criminal prosecution
  • receive a prompt bond hearing
  • get a free attorney if you cannot afford to hire a private attorney, as determined by the court
  • decide whether to plead guilty or not guilty
  • be informed of evidence and witness statements in the prosecution’s possession
  • decide whether to present the case to a jury or judge for trial
  • confront witnesses
  • testify or not testify during criminal proceedings
  • appeal a conviction
  • refuse to provide DNA samples, except when ordered by the court


Every person has the right to appeal a conviction. A criminal appeal is the process through which a defendant asks a higher court to review the case and determine if possible errors affected the outcome. The defendant has 30 days to make an appeal after a judge makes the final ruling in the post-trial motion. This is done by filing a legal written argument called a brief with the appellate court.

Criminal Defense Attorneys

Criminal defense attorneys are invaluable resources when you are charged with a crime. The criminal procedure process is complicated and confusing. This document created by the State of Illinois provides an overview of the criminal procedure process. A knowledgeable criminal defense attorney is an expert in criminal procedure and will make sure that every deadline is met and that your case proceeds smoothly through the system. Criminal Defense Attorney Dennis F. Dwyer has vast experience handling all types of criminal matters and can ensure that your case is handled professionally and appropriately. Call his office today to discuss your case.

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