Things to Remember

This summary tries to provide a linear explanation of how the different phases of a criminal prosecution occur, but in many respects, these phases often overlap. For example, the investigative phase often should continue even after an arrest is made. There may be additional witnesses with information relevant to the case that were not known at the time the initial charging decision was made or physical evidence that wasn’t immediately discovered. It is important to remember that the police and prosecutors are in the business of doing justice and that often means going to extraordinary lengths to explore all potential leads.

Similarly, prosecutors have a continuing duty to turn over relevant information to the defense as it becomes known to them. Even if a trial is already in progress, the prosecution must turn over all exculpatory or impeaching information that is material to the guilt or innocence or to the punishment of a defendant to the defense.

And finally, though the interests of the victims of crime are extremely important, the State’s Attorney’s Office represents all the people of the county, not individual victims. Once the case is charged, the State’s Attorney has absolute discretion over how to proceed, if at all, with the prosecution. Though it will always take into consideration the wishes of a victim, only the State’s Attorney’s Office has the authority to decide to “drop the charges.” This means that in most cases, once a prosecution has been initiated it will not be dismissed at the request of the complaining victim, unless injustice would result from the continued prosecution.