Where it All Begins: The Start of a Criminal Case

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It is a common scene. A distraught person calls an attorney because his or her loved one is in trouble and needs a lawyer. The conversation may start with getting some preliminary information like names, addresses, and phone numbers. Next, the attorney may begin asking questions about the charges. Was there an arrest? When was the arrest? Is there a summons or a warrant? The different terms regarding the start of a criminal case can be confusing.

 An Arrest

 The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures. There are generally only three ways for a police officer to make a lawful arrest:

  • The officer witnesses a crime in progress;
  • The officer has “reasonable grounds” to believe there is a warrant for the person’s arrest;
  • The officer is in possession of a warrant for the person’s arrest.


 A warrant is an order from a judge that literally “commands” a police officer to do something. Under the Illinois Criminal Code, a “warrant of arrest” tells the police to take a person into custody. In this situation, it is unnecessary that a crime be in progress or that the officer making the arrest have any knowledge of a crime. A warrant demonstrates that a judge has been shown sufficient evidence to grant the police the right to deprive a person of his or her freedom by making an arrest. Other warrants can instruct the police to search or take possession of property.


 Unlike the warrant, a summons does not authorize the police to take someone into custody. It merely commands a person to appear at a court at a specific place and time. A summons can be issued to anyone. They are often used to compel witnesses to testify at trials, but they can have other uses, as well.

Felony vs. Misdemeanor

In Illinois, there are three categories of crimes – petty offenses, misdemeanors, and felonies. These categories are distinguished by the maximum jail allowed following a conviction. Petty offenses are charges punishable by fine only and no jail is allowed. These typically include offenses like simple traffic citations. Misdemeanors, however, carry the potential for a jail term of up to no more than one year in the county jail. Felonies, on the other hand, carry sentences ranging from one year in the department of corrections up to life in prison.

Grand Juries and Indictments

 Under Illinois law, all misdemeanor and petty offenses can be filed by information, complaint, or indictment. This means the prosecutor files a document laying out the allegations. For felonies, however, there must be a formal determination of whether there is probable cause to believe the defendant committed the offense. This is done either with an indictment approved by a grand jury or a preliminary hearing in front of a judge. The choice of which is solely decided by the prosecutor. In Will County and in much of Illinois, the prosecutor usually chooses to approve felony cases with an indictment by a grand jury. An indictment doesn’t mean that you are guilty, just that the State is able to proceed with the criminal prosecution.

 Having a Defense Strategy

 Ivec Law, P.C. routinely represents criminal defendants, suspects, and anyone who believes they may be the target of a criminal investigation. Remember, the Constitution guarantees your liberty. You are presumed innocent. A proven criminal defense attorney is the key to a successful outcome. Make sure you have an attorney on your side who will fight to protect your rights. Call (815) 439-9909 for a consultation today.

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