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Criminal Law 101 in Illinois

Our goal is to provide accurate, useful and accessible information about Illinois law. However, we realize the law is still confusing no matter how clear we try to be, and the sheer amount of information can be overwhelming.

The quickest way to get your questions answered is probably to call us. You can talk to an Illinois attorney for free and usually right away.

If you prefer to read up on a topic first, we have tons of articles and we’re adding new ones all the time.

For those who just want the quick version, here it is:

  • If you are stopped or pulled over by the police, you do not have to answer any questions, and you probably shouldn’t. And you do not have to agree to a search if asked. Politely decline.
  • The right to remain silent applies only when you are in police custody. If the police fail to read you your rights, statements you made can get thrown out but not necessarily your entire case.
  • Get an attorney early on. Find someone local – in the county where you were arrested – and make sure they work often in the courtroom where your case will be heard. Their local reputation, as well as their relationships with the judges and prosecutors, can be invaluable.
  • Some of the most successful criminal defense attorneys are former prosecutors or former public defenders.
  • Most criminal defense attorneys charge hourly. For some straightforward cases, attorneys might charge a flat fee. For hourly cases, attorneys usually require a retainer, which is a lump sum paid up front.
  • Never skip a court date. Not only can it lead to a warrant for your arrest, but it’s also going to make you look bad. When you do appear in court, dress appropriately and above all else respect the judge.
  • Never plead guilty without the advice of an experienced defense attorney. It may seem easier than facing a trial, but a conviction can follow you for years, if not forever. A good defense attorney will do what they can to lessen the charges or get them dismissed altogether.
  • Crimes are generally categorized as misdemeanors or felonies. Misdemeanors are less serious than felonies, although both can come with jail time. If it’s your first misdemeanor offense, an experienced attorney can probably get it dismissed or at least get you court supervision instead.
  • Some traffic offenses are misdemeanors or even felonies. Others, such as a basic speeding ticket, are punishable by fine only. You still may want to hire an attorney to help keep your driving record clean or prevent a license suspension down the road.
  • Plea deals – pleading guilty in exchange for leniency – are common if you have an attorney. Generally, the charges against you, or your sentence, are lessened and there is no trial.
  • You have the right to a jury trial. The other option is a bench trial, where the judge hears the facts and evidence and makes the final decision. There are pros and cons to both.
  • If you are found guilty at trial, you have the right to appeal, but the deadline is short. You have 30 days to file a notice of appeal.
  • Some criminal records can be sealed or expunged. Generally, you are stuck with felonies and serious driving offenses like DUIs.
  • If you have ever been arrested, even if you weren’t charged or found guilty, it’s probably on your record. It’s a good idea to get a copy from the police station that arrested you and clear it if you can.

Do you still have questions? You can call us anytime and talk to an attorney about your situation, for free. Our goal is to give you our honest opinion, and if you need an attorney, to give you the best referral we can. This means an attorney with the right experience, location and affordability for you. We can recommend an attorney we know and trust for almost any criminal matter, anywhere in Illinois.