Chicago area criminal law attorney Vincent F. Cornelius has earned the respect of judges, prosecutors and court observers. More important, he has earned the respect and appreciation of his clients and their families. Mr. Cornelius understands that every case is unique and every case as unique, and every client’s case is the most important case in the world to that client. It is with this approach that criminal defense lawyer Vincent Cornelius has earned that respect of his clients over and over again. He prepares every case as though it will proceed to trial. That thorough preparation ensures the best possible result for his clients in the courtroom and at the negotiating table.
The following information provides a general background for criminal law, and may answer some of your questions before you consult an attorney.
For an attorney who knows criminal law, contact Vincent Cornelius.
* Serving Chicago, Joliet, Aurora, Naperville, Wheaton and other city and suburban areas.
Contact with the criminal justice system can be frightening and intimidating. The United States has the highest incarceration rate of any industrialized nation and many crimes carry mandatory jail or prison sentences. It is important to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney to protect your rights as early in the process as possible, preferably as soon as you are contacted by the police or have reason to suspect you are being investigated. You have a right to remain silent and you should not answer any questions of the police or investigators before speaking with an experienced criminal defense attorney.
The criminal justice system is complex. There are rules in place to protect the rights of the accused criminal defendant. The rules dictate how all the key participants behave. This includes rules for police, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, and juries.
The United States and Illinois Constitutions guarantee criminal defendants due process of law and dictate the conduct of police, prosecutors and judges. The guarantees of the constitution protect the accused from unlawful arrests, searches, and interrogations, and require a fair trial by an impartial judge or jury. The penalty for law enforcement and prosecutors violating a defendant’s rights is often a dismissal of the charges.
A criminal case starts with the police investigating the report of a crime. The police collect physical evidence and interview potential witnesses. The police may arrest a suspect immediately after the report of an alleged crime or they may wait until they have completed a more thorough investigation and seek an arrest warrant from a judge.
When a criminal defendant is arrested by police, they must take that defendant before a neutral judge, usually within 48-72 hours. The judge will tell the defendant what the charges against him are and set bail. Bail is money that a defendant must provide to be released from jail while the case is pending trial or some other resolution of the case.
In Illinois a defendant must pay 10% of the bail set by the judge. Illinois does not have bail bondsmen. The amount of bail set will depend on many factors including the nature and seriousness of the offense charged, the defendant’s ties to the community and risk of flight, the defendant’s prior criminal history, and whether there is any threat to safety of the community. The bail money may be returned to the person who posted it if the defendant appears for all his or her court dates. If the defendant does not show up for court, the bond money may be forfeited or revoked by the court. Money posted as bond may also be used to pay fines, court costs, court fees, and in some cases, it can be used to pay attorneys fees.
In Illinois, probable to believe that an accused defendant has committed a crime is established through either a preliminary hearing or by an indictment from the grand jury. A preliminary hearing is a hearing held in open court, and the defendant participates in this hearing by cross-examining the State’s witnesses and making arguments to the judge. The grand jury indictment process is a more one-sided process where the state presents evidence to the Grand Jury, but the defendant and the defense attorney are not allowed to be present or to ask questions. The State determines whether to proceed by the Grand Jury or a by a probable cause hearing, and the State usually elects to proceed by the Grand Jury.
An arraignment is the proceeding during which a judge informs the defendant of the criminal charges against him and advises the defendant of the potential sentences. The defendant then enters a formal plea of guilty or not guilty, and the court then schedules future court dates for the case.
A plea bargain occurs when the State and the defendant agree on how to resolve the charges pending against the defendant. This may include agreeing on the defendant pleading guilty to a lesser offense than the original charge, the State agreeing to drop some charges in exchange for a plea to others, or the State recommending that the judge be lenient in sentencing the defendant. It is unusual that a defendant would be able to negotiate a plea bargain without an attorney. It is important to involve an experienced criminal defense attorney in this process.
At trial the prosecution has the burden of proving the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This is done by presenting evidence and witnesses to the jury or judge. The defendant can cross-examine or question all of the State’s witnesses if he or she chooses. The defendant may testify, but also has the right to remain silent at trial and not say anything or present any witnesses. The defendant alone decides whether his trial is heard by a jury or a judge.
If the defendant is found guilty at trial, the judge will impose a sentence. All crimes in Illinois have a minimum and maximum penalty. In misdemeanor cases the judge can impose a sentence immediately following the trial. In felony cases the judge must order a pre-sentence investigation report. At a sentencing hearing, the State presents aggravation evidence, or evidence in support of the sentence the State believes is appropriate. The defendant will present mitigation evidence, usually evidence in support of a more lenient sentence. An experienced criminal defense attorney is capable of presenting persuasive and compelling evidence and arguments in favor of a lenient sentence.
It is important to consult an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible when you are involved in the criminal justice system. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you navigate the system and insure that your rights are protected throughout the process.
Vincent F. Cornelius, former criminal prosecutor, can be reached in Joliet or Wheaton, Illinois.
Call the Joliet office at 815-723-7300 or the Wheaton office at 630-665-6644. Or if you prefer, contact attorney Cornelius by e-mail today.