Felony Defined: A serious crime that has a possible prison term of 1 year or more. Some felonies carry terms of up to 60 years. Murder is a felony, but has special rules of its own, including life in prison or execution.


The Arrest: When the police arrest someone and believe a felony should be charged, they call the State’s Attorney’s Felony Review Office. The State’s Attorney on duty gathers information and sometimes interviews the defendant. The State’s Attorney then decides if felony charges are proper. If so, the person is charged and held for a bond hearing.

The Bond Hearing: As soon as practical after a felony arrest, the accused is taken before a judge to set a bond. The bond court judge listens to the charges and the history of the defendant. The judge decides the terms of the defendant’s release, whether it is by personal recognizance (I-Bond) or by posting with the court an amount of money (D-Bond).

The Preliminary Hearing: After the arrest and bond hearing, the case is usually scheduled for a preliminary hearing. At this hearing a judge hears evidence to determine two matters. First, was a crime committed? Second, is there reason to believe a particular individual committed this crime? This is a very important part of the process. If the defendant wins the preliminary hearing, the judge says there is no probable cause to bring the charges, and usually the case is over. Often, even if the defendant loses the hearing, having an experienced lawyer for this hearing can be very important for later, since a record is kept of the testimony at the hearing, and this can be used later in defending the case.

The Indictment: The state can charge a person with a felony by presenting evidence to a Grand Jury. After the Grand Jury hears evidence and agrees there was a crime, an indictment is issued. In this situation there will not be a preliminary hearing. If the defendant is not in custody, a warrant will be issued for his arrest.

Assignment to Trial Court: When someone is arrested and charged with a felony, if there has been a finding of probable cause at a preliminary hearing or an indictment, the case is then assigned to the Chief Judge’s courtroom. The Chief Judge assigns the case to a trial court.

Arraignment: After assignment to a trial court, the defendant is formally told of the charges against him. It is at this point that a formal plea of not guilty is given to the court.

Discovery: This is the process by which the state must provide to the accused the evidence that it has against him. Gathering this evidence is extremely important to the defense.

Motions: A Motion is a request by an attorney asking the judge to order that something be done. Some motions, if successful, such as Motion to Quash Arrest, Motion to Suppress Evidence, and Motion to Suppress Statement, can result in the case being dismissed. Experienced lawyers keep an eye on the case and the evidence to determine if there are important motions to be made that affect their client’s freedom.

Plea Agreement: This is when the State’s Attorney, defense attorney, and defendant agree what penalty will be imposed if the defendant pleads guilty to the crime. Often the trial judge also participates in the agreement. Many cases are finished in this fashion, and an experienced lawyer knows what the usual penalties are for specific situations. In that way he can arrange for the best possible outcome for his client.

Trial: In the event that there is no agreement in return for a plea (or the case is not dismissed by way of a motion), then a trial is held, and the defendant maintains his plea of not guilty. At trial the state presents evidence to either a judge (bench trial) or a jury. The state must prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If this does not happen, the defendant is found not guilty and the case is over. If it does happen, then the defendant will have a penalty imposed by the judge who presided at the trial.

Possible Felony Terms of Imprisonment

Illinois has defined felonies in five classes.


Minimum Prison


Maximum Prison


Possible Extended Term Period of Mandatory Supervised Release (Parole)
X 6 years 30 years 60 years 3 years
1 4 years 15 years 30 years 2 years
2 3 years 7 years 14 years 2 years
3 2 years 5 years 10 years 1 year
4 1 year 3 years 6 years 1 year

For all felonies, there is the possibility of a fine up to $25,000. In some instances, for example marijuana trafficking at a school, the fines can range up to $200,000.


For Further Reading