The Criminal Court Process

Fortunately, many people will never have to experience much contact with the criminal justice system.  Unfortunately, for those who do become involved with it, the process can be a very long, difficult and confusing one.  The St. Clair County State’s Attorney’s Office seeks to make the experience easier for those people and hopefully this short section will explain the basic procedures of the criminal court system.

In the St. Clair County Criminal Court system, there are two main levels of offenses: Traffic/Misdemeanor and Felony.  Oftentimes, traffic and misdemeanor offenses are charged on what are called Uniform Traffic Citations if they are traffic offenses or Non-Traffic Complaints if they are misdemeanor offenses.  It is the issuing law enforcement agency that is filing this charges which will then be prosecuted by the State’s Attorney’s Office or a local prosecutor if they are what is called an “ordinance violation” which is just a local law as opposed to a state law.  Those “tickets” are then sent to the St. Clair County Circuit Clerk who will set the case for a court appearance.  If a person is a victim or witness in one of those cases, they should be contacted by the State’s Attorney’s Office to be notified of court appearances or the local prosecutor if it is an ordinance violation.

If a person is the defendant in one of these cases, meaning that they are the one who has been charged with committing the offense, they will be given notice of the first court date on the copy of the citation they received from the law enforcement officer.  If they wish to hire counsel, they should do so prior to the court date on the citation, or if jail time is being sought as a penalty, and the defendant cannot afford private counsel, then the Public Defender’s Office will be appointed.

Whenever a person appears in court on traffic and misdemeanor offenses, it is important that they bring with them any evidence that they may have for the case or anything relevant to the case.  In a traffic accident case, this may mean bringing proof of insurance, a car repair bill, bills for medical expenses related to the accident, and anyone who was in the car.  Having all of the information as soon as possible can sometimes lead to a quicker, easier resolution for all parties.

In regards to certain types of cases, including all felonies and domestic violence cases, the State’s Attorney’s Office is responsible for reviewing cases presented by local law enforcement agencies and deciding whether or not there is enough evidence for charges to be filed.  A person can be detained for 48 hours in Illinois while charges are reviewed.  If charges are declined, then the State’s Attorney’s Office will let the law enforcement agency know the charges were declined and why they were declined.  If charges are issued, then a bond will be set, and the defendant will be detained until bond can be posted.

After a case has been charged, a Judge and prosecutor will be assigned to the case.  If it is a violent crime, then the same prosecutor who charged the case will follow through in prosecuting the case.  The prosecutor assigned to the case will contact the victim in accordance with the Crime Victim’s Rights Amendment to keep them informed as to what is occurring with the case.

Some victims wish to be present at every court date, some do not want to participate in the proceedings at all, and some just wish to be informed whenever there is a new development in the case.  However a person wants to be involved, the State’s Attorney’s Office will do our best to accommodate their wishes.  It is important to make sure that our office always has updated contact information from both victims and witnesses so that they can be informed of any developments.  While the final decision rests with the State’s Attorney’s Office as far as how to proceed with a given case, the thoughts and wishes of victims are always of the utmost concern.

If a case does go to trial or hearing, our office will meet with victims or witnesses to explain in person the trial or hearing process, and make sure that they feel as comfortable as they can in regards to testifying.  If a conviction is attained, we will discuss sentencing possibilities and go over any rights that victim may have including the right to present a victim impact statement and we will assist in the preparation of that statement.

The wheels of justice do not always move as swiftly as people would like.  Cases may drag on for months, and it is not unusual, especially on violent crimes, for cases to take a year or more to reach their resolution.  In the end, the legal system can be complicated and unpredictable.  We can never promise a victory for the victims of crime, much less a speedy one, but we can promise only our best effort.  And we will always promise all the People of the State of Illinois, those whom we represent, exactly that.