Frequently Asked Questions

Jason Pohren
(217) 357-3916

Frequently Asked Questions
Office of the State's Attorney

Victim of Crime
What should I do if I am a victim of a crime?

Charges Filed
How does the Hancock County State's Attorney's Office decide whether to file charges?
What if charges are filed?

Trial
When will I be called to appear as a witness?
Will there always be a trial?
Are all trials in front of a jury?
What happens after a defendant is convicted after a guilty plea or a trial?
If I am a crime victim, do I need an attorney?
If I am a victim or witness, how will I be notified about the case?
If I am a victim or witness, will I have to take off from work to appear in court?
If I am a victim of a crime, how do I get items held as evidence returned to me?
If I am a victim of crime, can I receive restitution or compensation for property loss and injuries?
Will I be notified of what happens to the defendant in a case where I am the victim?

Fine Payment Review
Where and when do I pay my court-imposed financial obligations?

A Prosecutor
What is a prosecutor?

For More Information
What if I am a victim or witness and I need more information about the case?

Victim of Crime

What should I do if I am a victim of a crime?
Report the crime as soon as possible to the law enforcement agency that serves the geographic area where the crime is committed.

What happens next?

The offender may be arrested without a warrant. If the offender is not apprehended immediately, the police may request an arrest warrant be issued. In either case, the police will submit a report to the state's attorney's office for review and consideration.

Charges Filed

How does the Hancock County State's Attorney's Office decide whether to file charges?
The state's attorney has complete and sole discretion in the charging process. The state's attorney and his staff review police reports to determine whether a criminal offense has been committed. If an offense has been committed, the state's attorney will determine whether there is enough evidence to convict beyond a reasonable doubt. There must be substantial evidence before the state's attorney will subject a citizen to a criminal prosecution. In many cases, there is no question the law has been violated. However, charges may not be filed because the evidence is lacking. The state's attorney will work with the police (and crime victim) to ensure that a complete investigation has been conducted. If there is still insufficient evidence, a charge cannot be filed. The case will be closed unless new relevant and material evidence is discovered.

What if charges are filed?
If the citizen accused is arrested and charges are filed, he or she will be required to appear in court. The judge will set bond and advise the accused, known as the defendant, of the charges against him or her. The defendant will be advised of his or her constitutional rights. In misdemeanors, the case will be continued for an arraignment. In felonies, the case will be scheduled for a preliminary hearing within 30 or 60 days after the first appearance.
Victims will be notified of the charges being filed and the case's status by the victim-witness coordinator. Victims and witnesses need not be present at the first appearance.
Most defendants post bond and are released from custody pending their their next court appearance.

Trial

When will I be called to appear as a witness?
In misdemeanors, the victims and witnesses normally need only appear in court at the trial. In felonies, the victim sometimes will be called to testify at the preliminary hearing. The preliminary hearing is not a trial, but is held to determine whether probable cause exists that a felony offense has been committed and there is reason to believe that the defendant committed that offense. The preliminary hearing is held in front of a judge sitting without a jury. If probable cause is found, the defendant will typically demand a jury trial. If so, the case is placed on the pretrial calendar. However, if no probable cause is found, the case is dismissed. Victims and witnesses are sometimes called upon to testify in pretrial motion hearings. These motions usually deal with issues pertaining to admissibility of evidence or statements.

Will there always be a trial?
No, in many cases the defendant decides to plead guilty and no trial is held. Whether a defendant is convicted as a result of a plea or following a trial, victims and witnesses may be called upon to testify about the crime at a sentencing hearing in front of a judge sitting without a jury.

Are all trials in front of a jury?
No, a defendant has a choice between having the case heard in front of a judge and jury called a jury trial, or a trial in front of a judge only called a bench trial. The choice of a jury or a bench trial belongs solely to the defendant. The state's attorney has no choice in the matter as to how a defendant is tried.

What happens after a defendant is convicted after a guilty plea or a trial?
Once convicted, the defendant is required to be sentenced. Sentencing the defendant is the responsibility of the judge. A judge has many alternatives in determining a just and proper sentence. The judge will ask the prosecutor and the defendant's attorney for recommendations, but the judge decides the final sentence. In serious cases, the judge will order Court Services to prepare a report known as a pre-sentence investigation report. This report is used to provide background information about the defendant.
The state's attorney's office has a person called the victim-witness coordinator. This person's job is to notify victims and witnesses about the progress of a case in which they are involved. The victim-witness coordinator is available to answer questions and to assist victims and witnesses in understanding the many phases of a criminal case. Some frequent questions and their corresponding answers follow.

If I am a crime victim, do I need an attorney?
Generally, no. The state's attorney and assistant state's attorney are responsible for prosecuting criminal cases. They represent the People of the State of Illinois and the individual crime victim because criminal offenses are committed not only against a particular individual, but also against society or the state in general. Sometimes if a crime victim has suffered personal injuries or a large amount of property loss, the victim may wish to consult a private attorney concerning recovery in a civil suit separate from the criminal case.

If I am a victim or witness, how will I be notified about the case?
Victims and witnesses are typically notified by telephone and/or mail about general details by the victim-witness coordinator. When court appearances are required, the victim and witnesses will receive a subpoena which may be personally served by a deputy sheriff. The subpoena is a formal document requiring the person named on its face to appear in court. You should always advise the state's attorney's office if you move or change your telephone number. Your case could be dismissed by the court if we cannot find you.

If I am a victim or witness, will I have to take off from work to appear in court?
Generally, all trials are held between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. If you are employed and work during these periods, you will have to miss work to attend court. Your employer cannot legally discharge, punish, or threaten you for attending a criminal proceeding when you have been subpoenaed.

If I am a victim of a crime, how do I get items held as evidence returned to me?
The state's attorney's office must sign a written release before items held as evidence can be returned. Most evidence is held by the police agency that handled the case and will be returned by that agency. In all cases, the property will be returned as soon as possible, but unfortunately some property must be held until after trial or until the defendant pleads guilty. Contact the victim-witness coordinator about the proper manner of release in a specific case.

If I am a victim of crime, can I receive restitution or compensation for property loss and injuries?
If the defendant is convicted, the judge may order as part of the sentence that the defendant pay restitution to the victim. The victim-witness coordinator will assist you in calculating the total restitution in your case. Restitution, if ordered, will cover only expenses that the victim has sustained as a direct result of the crime. The problem in securing restitution is that many defendants do not have the present or future ability to pay restitution, particularly if they are sentenced to a lengthy prison term. The state's attorney will often seek restitution if there is a reasonable likelihood of recovery. When restitution is ordered, payment is generally made in monthly installments. Injuries suffered in certain crimes may be recoverable under the crime victim's compensation program. The program provides eligible victims and their families with financial assistance for expenses incurred as a result of a violent crime.
The victim-witness coordinator can assist in determining eligibility and processing a claim.

Will I be notified of what happens to the defendant in a case where I am the victim?
All crime victims will be kept apprised of the progress in their case, including its final disposition.

Fine Payment Review

Where and when do I pay my court-imposed financial obligations?
Payment of court-imposed financial obligations shall be paid in the Office of the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Hancock County. If a defendant fails to pay or personally appear as set forth in his or her court order, the state's attorney's office will seek an arrest warrant. The state's attorney's office will not agree to a continuance over the telephone, so please do not call.

A Prosecutor

What is a prosecutor?
A prosecutor is first and foremost an officer of the court. Prosecutors are an institution and should not be compelled to defend every police investigation and prosecute every citizen accused if to do so would advance deceit or convict an innocent person. Prosecutors are to ensure justice regardless of public or private pressure, political considerations, or personal advancement. Prosecutors have a unique role in the criminal justice system. This was most effectively conveyed by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1935 case of Berger v. U.S., 295 U.S. 78, 88. The prosecutor is:

[T]he representative not of an ordinary party to a controversy, but of a sovereignty whose obligation to govern impartially is as compelling as its obligation to govern at all; and whose interest, therefore, in a criminal prosecution is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done. As such, he is in a peculiar and very definite sense the servant of the law, the twofold aim of which is that guilt shall not escape or innocence suffer. He may prosecute with earnestness and vigor-indeed, he should do so. But, while he may strike hard blows, he is not at liberty to strike foul ones. It is as much his duty to refrain from improper methods calculated to produce a wrongful conviction as it is to use every legitimate means to bring about a just one.

For More Information

What if I am a victim or witness and I need more information about the case?
Please contact the state's attorney's office and ask for the victim-witness coordinator.