When you are charged with a crime in Illinois, you have several options. You can plead “guilty” to the offense, which often occurs in exchange for a plea deal arranged between your criminal defense attorney and the prosecutor, usually limiting the penalties you face. You can plead “no contest,” or “nolo contendre,” which means you do not admit guilt but also do not dispute the charge. A no contest plea has the same effects as a guilty plea and often also accompanies a plea bargain. In both of the above scenarios, you will have a conviction on your record for the offense.
The third option for all criminal defendants is to plead “not guilty” and dispute the charge. Not guilty pleas will eventually lead to a criminal trial, in which either a judge or jury of your peers will hear evidence and decide on your guilt. Though most criminal cases are resolved through plea bargains, a number of cases do proceed to trial. Therefore, it is important to understand the process of criminal trial in Illinois.
Also known as “voir dire,” jury selection is a very important process that takes place in every jury trial. The attorneys and/or judge ask questions of potential jury members to eliminate anyone who is potentially biased or unwilling to respect the justice process.
Both the prosecution and defense attorneys have the opportunity to make an opening statement to inform the jury of what they expect to prove during the trial. A defense attorney can give his opening statement before or after the prosecution presents its case.
The prosecuting attorney then has the opportunity to call witnesses to the stand, to ask them questions (direct examination), and to present physical evidence with the help of the witnesses. The defense gets a chance to cross-examine each witness, and then the prosecution can re-examine them. When the prosecution has no more witnesses, they rest their case.