The Legal Process for Felony Charges in Woodridge, IL: Building a Strong Defense
Understanding the dramatic life challenge of being charged with a felony is a bit like going through cancer. No one really comprehends what it means until they, too, have the same experience. Then, the dramatic potential of finality becomes crystal clear. There is a reason why the Constitution includes checks and balances on government because the power of the institution is immense when it is focused on the individual. And this is also why legal help matters so much from the first moment of a felony accusation.
The process of a felony actually begins well before the arrest, the point at which a suspect knows for sure that the criminal process is gearing up against him or her. The beginning inflection point changing a person’s life typically starts with a complaint or an accidental discovery by law enforcement. At this point, the first decision is made about whether a particular individual is going to be investigated. If yes, then the police officer or agent begins with the establishment of profiling the suspect and gathering information, both about a potential crime as well as the individual in general. Both together are cobbled from evidence, witness statements, public information, and database searches.
As a picture begins to develop for an investigator, assuming the suspect is not arrested outright associated with a crime occurring or that has just occurred, the suspect is then possibly engaged with via an in-person discussion. This first talk, typically framed as a casual request for information or “talking to a potential witness,” gathers additional knowledge the suspect might volunteer, not realizing the talk is, in fact, an unofficial interrogation already taking place. It is entirely up to the suspect to request a legal defense presence, but most people try to prove their cooperation and friendliness with law enforcement. As a result, statements are made that are recorded by investigators, and that can be attributed to the suspect, especially given the fact that a law enforcement officer is usually treated as an expert witness as status in court.
At this point, based on the culmination of evidence and statements, the officer or investigator then makes a decision to recommend an arrest to supervision, who reviews the cases and either confirms the arrest action or requires more evidence to make the case stronger. In some cases, the law enforcement agency then may seek the direction of the district attorney or prosecutor for a green light. In very important or high-value cases, the prosecutor may take the route of a grand jury proceeding to confirm an arrest with an indictment. Again, a suspect may be brought in as a witness in that proceeding, be compelled to talk, and have to make a choice to stay silent and seem “guilty” or speak and be recorded prematurely. Finally, an arrest is ordered through one of the processes once it confirms relevant suspicion.
Many people are unaware that a criminal defense attorney can begin defense work well before a case reaches formal trial or even arrest. As soon as there is a hint of potential involvement in a felony, a possible suspect can hire and seek help from a defense attorney. Early intervention can potentially have a significant influence on the outcome of an investigation as well as the type and extent of charges filed if an arrest is made.
Once charges are filed, the defendant is brought in front of the court to plead. Known as the “arraignment,” the pleading hearing is the first formal argument the defendant can make to the court, as well as where he or she hears the full extent of criminal charges filed. Note this is not the end of any new charges; the prosecution can add additional charges later if a case can be made. So, it’s important for the defendant’s representation to make a solid argument about the character of the defendant and their involvement in the community. This first argument impacts whether bail will be required, how much, or if not, bail is allowed, and whether the defendant must stay in jail until trial. It’s the first test of freedom for the defendant and the first critical life risk; obviously, if one is denied bail or it’s too expensive, he or she can’t work or generate income, which could damage their livelihood. So, again, representation is essential to protect what one has already worked so hard to earn and build in a home and life.
Assuming no bail is needed or is approved at an affordable level, the defendant is then free until trial. This valuable respite is a ticking clock, and every hour should be used with one’s defense attorney to help identify and collect resources that can help. It should not be taken lightly. At the same time, the defendant needs to avoid engaging in conversations about the pending case with anyone aside from representation. That includes online chatter via social media, emails, texting, or similar. Everything put into a record can be obtained as evidence by the prosecution and usually is pursued by them.
Every step in the court pre-trial phase of a felony involves the navigation of the case to its best position going into trial. The prosecution is working to introduce evidence or bar the defense from latitude as well as shut down the defense from arguments excluding evidence. A defendant’s attorney is also filing motions to exclude testimony and evidence based on what has been shared by the prosecution under arguments of improper law enforcement tactics or exclusionary arguments. Every hearing is a step closer to the trial and a decision on whether evidence will be included or not. So, for the defendant, the work of an expert felony defense is active and fully engaged at this point, working to steer the case, reduce the extent of charges, and engage in discussions for potential plea bargaining options as well.
Of course, the primary goal is to avoid a conviction at trial. However, to the extent that it is not possible, then the goal is to reduce the damage and extent of conviction as much as possible, hopefully to a misdemeanor. That work starts well before the motion hearings but continues to right before the trial happens. Each day before the initial start, there is a potential for a negotiation that could be to the benefit of the defendant and potentially avoid a felony. This is critical because a felony conviction is life-changing in more ways than people realize. It goes well beyond a sentence and potentially time in jail.