I’ve been charged with a felony. How long will it be before I go to trial?
In both the civil side and criminal side of my practice, one of the most often asked questions is when will the client go to trial. The short answer is it depends, but let’s talk about the long answer.
If a person is charged with a felony, their case will likely not be turned over to a grand jury for at least six months after their arrest. Sometimes, depending on the district attorney’s office, it can even be a year afterwards. There are exceptions to that, though. I’ve seen cases where an investigator very quickly worked up his case, whether because of some connection to the family of the “victim” or because he had experience with the client and just didn’t like the client.
Once a person is arraigned (you can check out our previous post about arraignments), that’s when things really start moving. Your lawyer should be filing the necessary paperwork to 1) invoke your right to a speedy trial, 2) disclosing any discovery from you, and 3) request discovery from the prosecution.
In every criminal case, requesting and reviewing discovery is one of the main ways that a case gets dragged out. Often times, the prosecution will drag its feet in turning discovery over to the defense lawyer, and it is not unusual for there to be some discovery that the prosecution holds on to. Your lawyer should constantly be pushing to receive all of the discovery from the prosecution, so that he can determine what evidence should not be introduced at trial. As you and your lawyer are reviewing discovery, you should be strategizing and discussing how it affects your case.
If there is a legal issue with the discovery (and there always is), your lawyer should be drafting various motions for the court to consider. Some motions will be meant to limit specific parts of evidence at trial, while other motions are meant to set the case up for a dismissal. Once the motions are given to the court, your lawyer must set up a hearing date with the court and prosecutor’s office. Depending on what happens at the hearing and how the court rules on the different motions, that may lead to the lawyer changing his strategy moving forward. Regardless, though, the next step is final preparation for trial.
Probably the biggest reason that a case takes so long to go to trial is because of the court. Each day, hundreds of cases are filed in each courthouse around the state, which means that the court gets backed up very quickly. Courts only hear criminal cases during certain times throughout the year, which makes it even harder to have a trial quickly. The thing to remember, though, is that on the criminal side, time is always on the client’s side. The longer that a case is dragged out, the greater the chances of getting it dismissed, the more preparation can be put into the case, and the greater the likelihood that the prosecution just loses interest in the case.
The important thing to remember is that when the legal system is involved, regardless of the type of case, it is an incredibly slow process, and there is a lot of waiting involved. While waiting, though, you and your lawyer should take advantage of that time, whether it’s reviewing discovery, discussing strategy, and otherwise preparing for your trial.