The role of the Chicago criminal court is crucial in maintaining law and order. It also ensures that justice is served and perpetrators are held accountable for their actions.
This esteemed institution helps uphold public safety by adjudicating criminal offenses ranging from misdemeanors to serious felonies. The court’s judges, criminal lawyers, and support staff work to ensure fair trials. Here is a guide by Hirsch Law Group on everything you need to know about the Chicago criminal court system.
Illinois has operated with a unified court system since 1964 and can be divided into three tiers:
Circuit Courts: Also known as trial courts, these courts are where most cases begin. There are 25 judicial circuits in Illinois covering 102 counties. The Circuit Court of Cook County serves the residents of Chicago and its surrounding suburbs.
Appellate Courts: There are 5 courts of appeals in Illinois. These courts review cases from trial/circuit courts to determine whether the law was applied correctly.
The Illinois Supreme Court: It is the highest court of Illinois and ranks at the top of the three-tier court system. Parties to a case may request the Supreme Court’s discretionary review after an appellate court’s decision.
The Circuit Court of Cook County is the largest circuit court in Illinois. This trial court serves the residents of Chicago and its surrounding suburbs. It consists of about 400 judges and handles over 1 million cases annually.
Circuit court judges can be divided into the following categories:
Under Supreme Court Rule 39, circuit judges appoint associate judges. Their appointment is for a tenure of four years. An associate judge may hear any cases that the chief circuit court judge or the circuit judge deems appropriate.
The circuit judges of a particular circuit elect one judge to serve as the chief circuit court judge. This chief circuit judge has a general administrative authority of the circuit.
The following divisions make up the County department:
Child Protection Division
Domestic Relations Division
Domestic Violence Division
Juvenile Justice Division
The criminal division hears the cases where the state has asserted the commission of a severe crime. Such cases include the following:
Criminal sexual assault
Additionally, the criminal division hears criminal cases, including habeas corpus, extradition, and applications to expunge arrest records under the Criminal Identification Act of 1931.
The criminal division also offers specialist courts, termed problem-solving courts, that offer mental health care, veteran support, drug rehab, and assistance to women accused of prostitution.
Cook County courthouses operate in the following locations:
District 1: George N. Leighton Criminal Courthouse in South California Ave. and Richard J. Daley Center at Washington Street
District 2: Skokie Courthouse
District 3: Rolling Meadows Courthouse
District 4: Maywood Courthouse
District 5: Bridgeview Courthouse
District 6: Markham Courthouse
The Circuit Court has divided Cook County into six geographic subdistricts for administrative and organizational ease. Such a division enables the court to serve the sizable population of the county better. The city of Chicago forms the first municipal district of the Circuit Court of Cook County.
The first municipal district of the Cook County Circuit Court handles cases in the following categories:
Felony Preliminary Hearing
Marriage and Civil Union Court
During the trial process, you can expect the following people to participate:
Judge: They act as a legal referee to ensure the correct trial procedure is followed. They also issue rulings over a case
Jury: In criminal cases, the jury is present unless the defendant waives their presence. Typically, the judge requests a jury of 6, 12, 18, or 36 people.
Defendant: An individual against whom a criminal or civil case has been filed.
Prosecutors: The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office prosecutes the defendant in a criminal case. Municipal prosecutors may also prosecute certain cases.
Witness: A person who gives testimony in a case.
Court Reporter: Records every word that is said during the trial.
Clerk: They swear in witnesses during a case proceeding. They also maintain court orders and trial exhibits.
Deputy Sheriffs: Enforce courtroom decorum, guard the defendants in a criminal court, and watch over the jury.
Most criminal trials in Illinois go through five stages:
Stage 1: Jury Selection
The judge and counsel examine the jurors brought into the courtroom until a jury panel is selected. The inquiry aims to exclude any jurors who could find it challenging to reach a just and unbiased decision in that specific case.
Stage 2: Opening Statements
An attorney will make a brief statement to the jury. The statement outlines the facts of the case and what they would like to prove during the proceedings. The prosecutor makes the first opening statement, followed by the defense attorney.
Stage 3: Presentation of Evidence
The prosecution’s witnesses testify, followed by the defense’s witnesses. Any other rebuttal witness testifies at the end. Each witness swears under oath to be truthful. In direct examination, the lawyer who called the witness asks questions. The witness is subsequently put under cross-examination by the other side’s counsel. This interrogation is meant to extract evidence. At this stage, exhibits and other documents such as X-rays and photographs are also presented as proof.
Stage 4: Closing Arguments
Both attorneys are given a final chance to address the jury at this stage. The lawyer examines the facts and tries to persuade the jury to rule in favor of their client.
Stage 5: Jury Deliberations
The judge advises the jury on the applicable law in the specific case. The jury then leaves the courtroom to conduct their private deliberations. A selected juror, known as the jury foreman, informs the deputy sheriff when the jury unanimously reaches a decision. The jury returns to the courtroom at this juncture, and the decision is pronounced.
Criminal court proceedings in Chicago can be intimidating, and the decisions made in a criminal court can have long-term consequences. Therefore, consider hiring a criminal attorney to ensure that you receive fair treatment and effective legal representation throughout the legal process.
At Hirsch Law Group, we understand the devastation a criminal charge can bring in your life. Our criminal defense lawyers can guide you throughout the criminal court process. We may also be able to help you overturn the charges. Contact us to learn more about how we can handle your case. Call us to schedule a free case evaluation today!