I Was Arrested and Have to Go to Court

I Was Arrested and Have to Go to Court
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Last updated: October 2012

If you have been arrested and have to go to court because of the arrest, you have a criminal case. Below is helpful information about the criminal process. 

How can I get help with my criminal case?

There are a number of ways to get assistance with your case:

  • Contact a private lawyer
  • Contact the local bar association in your county for a lawyer referral
  • Get a Public Defender by going to court and asking the judge to appoint one. Anyone facing a jail sentence has a right to an attorney.

What is a Public Defender?

Public Defenders are lawyers who are employed by the government to provide free legal representation for clients who cannot afford a lawyer. You can only get a public defender if you are the defendant in a criminal case; free lawyers are not provided by the government in civil cases.

For more information, see Frequently Asked Questions on Public Defenders.

What does it mean to be charged?

To be “charged” with a crime is to be formally accused of a crime. Once you have been charged, you will have court dates to attend. Being charged does not mean that you have been convicted, or that you will be convicted, although a conviction is one possible outcome of a criminal case.

A criminal case can have many different results, for example:

  • You can be found guilty (convicted);
  • You can be found innocent (acquitted);
  • The charges against you can be dropped; or
  • The charges against you can be reduced to a lesser crime.

What are the steps in a criminal case?

1. Bond

The first thing that will happen after you are arrested and accused of a crime is that your bond will be set. Sometimes the bond is set by a judge at a court hearing. This is called bond court. For some crimes, the bond amount is already decided and you can be released from the police station and given a court date by a police officer.

If you can pay the bond amount, or are given a non-cash bond (such as an I-Bond), you will be set free on bond until your next court date. If you cannot pay the bond amount, or if bond is denied, you will be held in the county jail until the next court date.

2. Preliminary Hearing or Grand Jury Proceeding

The next court date is usually the Preliminary Hearing, where the judge will determine if there is enough evidence against you to have a trial. 

Instead of a Preliminary Hearing, sometimes a Grand Jury hearing is held. A Grand Jury is a group of people, just like a trial jury. They decide whether to issue an indictment (formal charge) against you. A Grand Jury proceeding is secret, meaning neither you nor your lawyer is allowed to be in the courtroom while it is taking place. You will find out afterwards if a trial will take place.

Under Illinois law, either a Preliminary Hearing or a Grand Jury usually must take place within 30 days of your arrest, if you are being held at a county jail, or 60 days if you are out on bond. The only exceptions are when a defendant creates the delay or there are issues involving the defendant's competency.

3. Arraignment

Following either of these hearings is an arraignment, where the charges against you will be read out loud and you will have the opportunity to "plead", or officially state that you are either innocent or guilty. The judge will also ask if you can afford an attorney if one is not with you in court. A Public Defender may be appointed if you qualify. The State’s Attorney may also give your attorney discovery (police reports) at the arraignment. Your lawyer is there to help you in your criminal case, but it is your decision whether you plead innocent or guilty.

4. Trial

Finally, if you have decided to plead innocent and go to trial, your trial will begin. You can decide whether you want a jury trial or a trial before only a judge. During the trial, both sides will have the opportunity to subpoena witnesses to testify and present evidence to the judge or the jury. You will also have the opportunity to testify on your own behalf. You do not have to testify. Your attorney will advise you what the best choice is in your particular situation. However, in the end this is your decision as well.

Can I Settle My Case Without Going to Trial?

Yes. This is called a plea bargain. Your attorney will speak to the state’s attorney and the judge about getting a favorable disposition of your case without trial. The decision to accept a plea offer is entirely up to you.

What If I Am Not Satisfied With My Attorney?

You have a right to counsel of your choice. You can hire any attorney you like and you can change that attorney by replacing him/her with another attorney with the judge’s permission.

NOTE: The right to choose or change your attorney does not extend to a free or appointed attorney. For example, you may not pick or choose the Public Defender you want.

What If I Am Not Satisfied With the Judge?

A defendant has a right to fair and impartial trial. You have a right to change or substitute a judge if you think you will not get a fair trial or that the judge is prejudiced against you. Within 10 days of a case being assigned to a judge, you may change that judge with no questions asked or reasons give. After 10 days, you must give a reason for the change.

What should I do if I miss my court date?

A warrant may be issued for your arrest if you missed your court date or appearance. If you miss your first court date, immediately contact the Public Defender's Office in your county and ask for assistance. If you have missed any court date after your first court date, you should contact your private lawyer or public defender right away.

What should I do if I know in advance I will not be able to make my court date?

Court dates are very important. The only reason you should miss court is because of an emergency. If you know in advance that you cannot make court on a certain date, contact your public defender or private lawyer. If you do not have a private attorney and a public defender has not been appointed yet, immediately contact the Public Defender's Office in your county and ask for help.  

What is bond?

Bond is the amount of money you pay to guarantee that you will show up to court for your case. It serves as a sort of deposit that allows you to carry on with your life (with some restrictions) until your case is heard by a judge. 

Specific requirements must be met if you are given bond:

  • Come to all of your court dates;
  • Obey court orders;
  • Stay in Illinois, unless you get permission from the court to leave the state;
  • Do not commit any more crimes; and
  • Surrender firearms to the court in certain cases.

The court can also require that you do additional things. If you violate your bond by breaking any of these rules, you will be returned to jail. 

What is bond court?

Bond court is the court hearing where a judge decides on your bail amount. In Illinois, anyone accused of a felony goes to bond court. People who are accused of some misdemeanors or who have other issues, such as an outstanding warrant, are also sent to bond court.

For most crimes, there is no pre-set bond amount. Judges can consider many factors when deciding on this amount:

  • The nature of the alleged crime
  • The motivation for committing the alleged crime
  • Your criminal history
  • Your history of missing court dates
  • Family or educational ties to the area
  • Past military service
  • The likelihood that you may flee to another jurisdiction

What is an I-Bond?

An “I-Bond”, short for “Individual Bond,” is a personal recognizance bond. This means that you are released when you sign a statement saying you will come to court, without paying any actual money. 

Can bond be changed?

Yes, bond can be reconsidered. However, as with the original determination of bond, a judge must set the new bond amount.

What happens to the bond money when my case is done?

If you obey all of the conditions of your bond, the full amount will be given back to you when your case is done. Contact your county clerk to find out the local process for refunding your bond money. However, "D-bonds” require you to pay 10% of the bail amount set by the judge to get out of jail and be “out on bond”. So if the bail is $1,000, you must pay $100 to the court clerk. 

What is a subpoena?

A subpoena is an order, signed by a judge, that says you need to come to court on a specific date. 

What do I need to do if I receive a subpoena to testify?

If you receive a subpoena to come to court, you must come to court on that date. You may or may not be asked to testify as a witness in a case.  

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