Report the crime as soon as possible to the law enforcement agency that serves the geographic area where the crime is committed.
If the criminal offender is apprehended or his whereabouts are determined, the police will make an arrest or submit their report to the State's Attorney Office for review and consideration.
How does the State's Attorney Office decide whether to file charges?
The State's Attorney Office has complete and sole discretion in the charging process. The State's Attorney and his staff review police reports to determine if a criminal offense has been committed and to determine if they feel the crime can be proven in court. There must be substantial evidence before the State's Attorney Office will subject someone to a criminal prosecution. There must be enough provable evidence to convict the accused.
Many times there is no question that the law has been violated, but charges are not filed because the proof or evidence is lacking. The State's Attorney will work with the police and crime victim to assure that a complete investigation has been done. If there is still insufficient evidence or proof, the charge cannot be filed and the State's Attorney's Office will notify the victim and police that it has made a decision not to prosecute. This closes the case unless new information is received.
What if charges are filed?
If the accused is arrested and charges are filed, he or she will soon appear in court. The judge will set bond and advise the accused, known as the defendant, of the charges against him or her. The defendant will be advised of his or her constitutional rights. In misdemeanors, the case will be continued for plea. In felony offenses, a preliminary hearing will be scheduled usually for a date within thirty days after the first appearance.
Victims will be notified of the charges being filed and what has happened in court by the State's Attorney Office Victim Witness Coordinator. Victims and witnesses need not be present at the first appearance.
Most defendants post bond and are released from custody pending their trial and/or their next court appearance.
When will I be called to appear as a witness?
In misdemeanors, the victims and witnesses normally need only appear in court at the trial. In felony cases, the victim sometimes will be called to testify at the preliminary hearing. The preliminary hearing is not a trial, but is held in felony cases to determine whether probable cause exists that a crime has been committed and there is reason to believe that the defendant committed the crime. The preliminary hearing is held in front of a judge sitting without a jury. If probable cause is established the case proceeds to felony status, if no probable cause is found, the case is dismissed.
Victims and witnesses are sometimes called upon to testify in cases where pretrial motions are filed. These motions usually deal with technical legal issues.
Will there always be a trial?
No, in many cases the defendant decides to plead guilty and no trial is held. However, victims and witnesses may sometimes be called upon to testify about the crime at a sentencing hearing in front of a Judge sitting without a jury.
Are all trials in front of a jury?
No, a defendant has a choice between having the case heard in front of a Judge and jury called a jury trial, or a trial in front of just the Judge called a bench trial. The choice is up to the defendant. The State's Attorney has no choice in the matter of how a defendant is tried.
What happens after a defendant is convicted at trial or pleads guilty?
Once convicted, the defendant is required to be sentenced. Sentencing the defendant is the responsibility of a Judge. A Judge has many alternatives in determining a just and proper sentence. The Judge will ask the prosecutor and the defendant's attorney for recommendations, but the Judge decides the final sentence. Many times in very serious cases, the Judge will order the probation department to prepare a report known as a pre-sentence investigation report. This report is used to provide background about the defendant.
The State's Attorney Office has a staff person called the Victim Witness Coordinator. This person's job is to notify victims and witnesses about the progress of the case in which they are involved. The Victim Witness Coordinator is also available to answer questions and assist victims and witnesses in understanding the many phases of a criminal case. Some frequent questions and their answers follow.
Do I need an attorney?
Generally no, the State's Attorney and Assistant State's Attorney are responsible for prosecuting the criminal case. They represent the People of the State of Illinois and the individual crime victim because criminal offenses are committed not only against a particular individual, but also against society or the State in general. Sometimes if a crime victim has suffered personal injuries or a large amount of property loss, the victim may wish to consult a private attorney concerning recovery in a civil suit separate from the criminal case.
How will I be notified about the case?
Victims and witnesses are notified by telephone and mail about general details by the Victim's Witness Coordinator. When court appearances are required, the victim and witnesses will receive a subpoena which may be delivered in person by a deputy sheriff. The subpoena is a formal document requiring the person named on its face to appear in court. Always advise the State's Attorney Office if you move or change your phone number. Your case could be dismissed by the court if you can't be found.
Will I have to take off from work to appear in court?
All trials are held between 8:00 am and 4:00 pm, Monday through Friday. If you are employed during these periods, you will have to miss work to attend court. Your employer cannot legally discharge, punish, or threaten you for attending a criminal proceeding when you have been subpoenaed. Show your employer your subpoena.
How do I get items held as evidence returned to me?
The State's Attorney Office must sign a written release before items held as evidence can be returned. Most evidence is held by the police department that handled the case and will be returned by that department. In all cases, the property will be returned as soon as possible, but unfortunately some property must be held until after trial or until the defendant pleads guilty. Contact the Victim's Witness Coordinator about proper release.
Will I receive restitution or compensation for property loss and injuries?
If the defendant is convicted, the judge may order as part of the sentence that the defendant pay restitution to the victim. The Victim Witness Coordinator will assist in calculating the total restitution in the case. Restitution, if ordered, will cover only expenses that the victim has sustained as a direct result of the crime. The problem in securing restitution is that many defendants have no ability to pay restitution or they are sentenced to prison where there is no likelihood that they will send money to the victim.
The State's Attorney will always try and seek restitution if there is some hope of it being paid. However, it is up to the sentencing judge to decide.
When restitution is ordered, payment is generally spread out over several months and payments are made through the Probation Department.
Injuries suffered in certain crimes are recoverable through the Victim's Compensation Act. The Illinois Crime Victim's Compensation Program can provide innocent victims and their families up to $27,000 of financial assistance for expenses incurred as a result of a violent crime.
The Victim Witness Coordinator can assist in processing a claim and determining eligibility.
Will I be notified of what happens to the defendant in a case where I am the victim?
All victims will be notified throughout the criminal proceedings of the case status and also the final disposition or end result of a case in which they are involved.
What if I need more information or a question answered?
Please call the State's Attorney Office at 815.777.0109 and ask for the Victim Witness Coordinator.