The Winnebago County District Attorney’s Office is dedicated to safeguarding the rights of all members of our community, protecting the community through vigorous prosecution of criminal offenders, and providing compassionate services to the victims of crime. Accordingly, the following policies, procedures, and guidelines have been developed to assist prosecutors in handling a variety of cases. These guidelines are also intended to provide some continuity within the office regarding case handling and disposition. Prosecutors in our office are expected to follow these guidelines unless clearly articulated and objective reasons exist which would remove the case from the guidelines. Any time a case is either resolved outside of the guidelines or contrary to the stated policy, the prosecutor must explain and document the reasons.
In some of the guidelines reductions are prohibited. In such cases, if a prosecutor believes it is appropriate to either recommend a sentence outside of the prescribed guidelines or amend a case contrary to the office's stated policies, the prosecutor must obtain prior approval from the District Attorney or Deputy District Attorney.
It is the policy of the Winnebago County District Attorney's Office that charging decisions should be made in a timely manner. Accordingly, felonies should be reviewed and either recommended for charges or have been determined to need additional information within 30 days and misdemeanors should be reviewed and either recommended for charges or have been determined to need additional information within 60 days.
Prosecutors are under ethical constraints when deciding what, if any, charges should be issued. It is the policy of our office that any and all charging decisions are within the discretion of the individual prosecutors. However, it is important to note that it is considered unprofessional conduct and a violation of policy for a prosecutor to either initiate criminal charges or cause criminal charges to be initiated when he or she knows that the evidence does not support them. While a prosecutor is not obligated to file all charges merited by the evidence, a prosecutor must file only those charges that the evidence merits.
In our office, an individual prosecutor may, in certain circumstances and for cause, decline to prosecute, notwithstanding the fact that evidence exists supporting a conviction and/or charges. In accordance with our Office’s Mission Statement, it is the duty of a prosecutor to seek justice, not merely to convict. Accordingly, while an individual prosecutor has a duty to prosecute criminals, he or she likewise has a duty to seek justice, which does not require prosecution in all cases even when there appears to be a violation of the law.
It is the policy of our office to issue only those charges supported by the evidence. As such, prosecutors are prohibited from charging a high degree of an offense, in anticipation of a reduction for a plea, when the evidence does not fully support the higher charge. Additionally, prosecutors are prohibited from either charging or threatening to charge additional counts not fully supported by the evidence only as leverage to induce a plea. However, it is neither a violation of policy, nor is it prohibited, to file charges of a higher degree when the evidence supports the charges. Further, prosecutors are allowed to file additional charges, so long as they are supported by the evidence, and resolve the matter with a lower degree offense/fewer counts as long as the matter stays within the same severity level (i.e. felony, misdemeanor, or ordinance.)
It is the policy of this Office that discovery should be given to represented defendants in misdemeanor cases at the initial appearance. In felony cases, discovery is provided to represented defendants at arraignment, or in many cases, after the completion or waiver of the preliminary hearing.