The Jury Trial for Criminal Cases in Illinois

Criminal-Trial-300x201The right to a jury trial is one of the fundamental constitutional principles that applies to all criminal cases. If you are accused of a crime that carries a punishment of incarceration for more than 6 months, you have a constitutional right to a trial by a jury. The Illinois Constitution also guarantees you the right to a jury trial in a criminal case. Let’s talk a little bit about what a jury trial is and what happens in a typical jury trial in Illinois.

How Are Jurors Chosen for Jury Duty in Illinois?

The Clerk of the Court will receive a database containing the names and addresses of a pool of potential jurors in each County. The database containing the names and addresses of potential jurors are compiled from three sources.

1. The Illinois Secretary of State will supply a list of potential jurors who has been issued a driver’s license, state identification card, or disabled persons identification card in that county.

2. The local County Clerk and Election Commission will provide the identities of registered voters in that county.

3. The Illinois Department of Labor will provide the identities of potential jurors of those who have applied for unemployment benefits in that county.

The local Clerk of the Court will use a random system to select potential jurors. The Clerk of the Court will then mail a postcard to the potential jurors chosen that will contain a questionnaire to determine whether that person is eligible to serve. Once the postcards are returned, the Clerk of the Court will then use a random system to summon the people chosen to appear in court for jury duty.

How Do Lawyers Chose a Jury?

If you are summoned for jury duty and selected to be considered for serving on a case, you will be brought into a courtroom for the jury selection process. The judge will explain to you how important jury service is to our criminal justice system and how the process and procedures in the courtroom will work. Usually the judge will explain to you what the defendant is being charged with and would like to make sure that nobody knows any of the parties, lawyers, or witnesses involved in the criminal case.

The jury selection process is called voir dire. The goal of the voir dire process is to select 12 people who can be fair and impartial who would hear the evidence and the arguments, and apply the law to the case to reach a unanimous verdict.

The voir dire process involves questioning by the prosecution and the defense and the court, of the prospective jurors. In a criminal case, each side has 7 peremptory challenges. A peremptory challenge means that a party can dismiss a prospective juror for any reason. For a misdemeanor case, each side has five peremptory challenges. There is no limit to the amount of challenges for cause that each party has. In criminal cases in which multiple defendants are on trial at the same time, each party has 5 peremptory challenges.

The ultimate goal of a criminal defense attorney is to select jurors that would be most favorable to their client. A seasoned criminal defense lawyer will have developed the skills and strategy necessary to select jurors that would tend to vote in favor of their client. A successful strategy will depend on the facts of the case and the educated guess of a good criminal defense attorney. The jury selection phase in a criminal case can be critical to winning or losing a criminal case. The skills necessary to choose a favorable jury are developed through years of experience and good instincts for judging people and getting a feel for the character of a prospective juror.

A jury trial will begin with the lawyers for the state and the defense making opening statements. The opening statements are not evidence. The opening statements will just be a short outline of what each side thinks the case is about and what they believe the evidence will show. After opening statements, the state will present their evidence and their Witnesses. The defense will be allowed to cross-examine the state’s witnesses and challenge their evidence. After the state is finished presenting their case, the defense will be allowed to present any evidence or witnesses that they wish to present to the jury. However, since the state has the burden of proving their case, the defense is not required to present any evidence or any witnesses. After all of the evidence is presented, the lawyers for the state and the defense will make closing arguments and then the jury will be sent to the jury room to decide guilt or innocence. The judge will give the jury a set of jury instructions which will contain the law that the jury is to apply to the evidence presented at the trial. Once the jurors reach a verdict all 12 jurors must sign each verdict form and the jury’s decision will be announced in open court.

Jury Trial or Bench Trial?

Whether a criminal defendant should have a jury trial or a bench trial he is one of the most common questions I get asked by clients. A jury trial is a trial in which a jury will determine guilt. In order for a jury to find you guilty in a criminal case in Illinois, all 12 jurors must agree to the verdict. A jury verdict must be unanimous. A bench trial is a trial in which the judge hears all the evidence and all of the arguments, and the judge renters a verdict of guilty or not guilty. Obviously, in order for a jury to find you guilty, all 12 people must be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the state proved you guilty at trial. For a bench trial, the state only has to convince the judge that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If that was all you knew about the difference between a jury trial and a bench trial, it would be easy to assume that a jury trial is a better choice for a criminal defendant because it’s harder to convince 12 people that you are guilty rather than just one person. But just like everything else in life, it’s not that simple. Whether you should let a judge or jury determine your guilt or innocence will depend on a variety of factors that depend on each individual case. And experienced criminal defense attorney with know what to look for when determining whether you should have a jury trial or bench trial.

Ultimately, the right to a jury trial is yours. Since you have the Constitutional right to have a jury determine your guilt or innocence, you are entitled to a jury trial unless and until you waive your right to a jury. All jury waivers must be in writing and the judge must question you to determine that you understand what you are doing and that your jury waiver is knowing and voluntary. Once the judge is convinced that you are making a knowing and voluntary waiver of your right to a jury, the judge will accept your waiver and have a bench trial.

James Dimeas is a nationally-recognized, award-winning, criminal defense attorney. James Dimeas has been handling criminal cases throughout Chicago, Cook County, DuPage County, Kane County, and Lake County, for over 26 years. Recently, Attorney and Practice Magazine gave James Dimeas the “Top 10 Criminal Defense Attorney Award for Illinois”. The National Academy of Criminal Defense Attorneys gave James Dimeas its “Top 10 Attorney Award for the State of Illinois. The American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys named James Dimeas a “10 Best Attorney for Client Satisfaction”. The American Society of Legal Advocates named James Dimea a “Top 100 Criminal Defense Lawyer in the State of Illinois For the Years 2018 and 2019”. James Dimeas has been named a “Best DUI Attorney” and a “Best Criminal Defense Lawyer in Chicago” by Expertise. The National Trial Lawyers named James Dimeas a “Top 100 Criminal Defense Trial Lawyer”. AVVO rates James Dimeas as “Superb”, the highest rating possible for any criminal defense lawyer in the United States.

If you are facing criminal charges, you can contact James Dimeas anytime for free and confidential consultation. You can always talk to James Dimeas by calling him at 847-807-7405.

Additional Resources:

Illinois Supreme Court Rule 431. The voir dire process.

725 ILCS 4/114-4. Trial by court and jury.

Additional Blogs:

Can the Police Arrest Me Without Any Evidence in Illinois, by James G. Dimeas, Chicago Criminal Lawyer Blog, July 3, 2017.

Cook County Jail-A Symbol of What’s Wrong With Our Criminal Justice System, by James G. Dimeas, Chicago Criminal Lawyer Blog, June 5, 2017.