There are only two times when the law moves fast: when you’re actively being arrested or already late. If you’re not being arrested and you’re not late, then everything’s going to move slow.
In your typical TV crime drama, a case takes 20 to 40 minutes to wrap up. You see the crime committed, see all the evidence, watch the negotiations and interactions with between the lawyers and witnesses, and maybe get a front-row seat to the trial and the final verdict. That’s all carefully presented in a neat hour segment. In real life that process takes many months to years!
The first part of the case is the actual arrest. This could be a simple traffic stop and citation or it could be a police investigation, interrogation, and booking into the county jail. If it’s just a traffic ticket then you’ll likely have a first court date on the ticket. If it’s a more involved arrest, then you might get a bond within a day or so and when you walk out of jail they’ll tell you that you’ll get your court date in the mail. There are also situations where you might remain in jail for some time – when the magistrate judge cannot give you bond or the judge sets bond so high that you cannot afford it. You may get a probable cause hearing and a more detailed bond hearing. The only time that you are entitled to a bond is if the case is not indicted in 90 days.
If you’re out of jail after the initial arrest and don’t have a simple traffic ticket, then you have to wait for the case to be accused (misdemeanor) or indicted (felony) by the prosecutors to get a court date. An accusation or indictment is the official kick-off of the case. During that time the statute of limitations is running, but you don’t have a court date and you don’t see any evidence. You don’t even have a right to a speedy trial under state law! You do have a right to a speedy trial under the US Constitution, but some cases put that “speedy” trial right as “about four years”.
Most pending cases are in this waiting period where nothing is happening. The reason is that the prosecutors are not ready to take your case yet. They have a full case load and are working at capacity constantly. For example, here in Bartow County, in December of 2019 the prosecutors were only just accusing misdemeanors that happened in mid-2018. That’s a 16 to 18 month delay between being arrested for a misdemeanor and receiving notice of your FIRST court date! Felony charges can take MUCH longer!!
Once you have your first court date scheduled, the second part of the action in the case begins. This is when the lawyers get the evidence and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the case against you. Sometimes more investigation is needed, sometimes you have to gather evidence in your defense. Some cases wrap up in one or two court dates but some can take months or years at this stage to get to a resolution. The judge will regularly (every few weeks or months) call “calendar calls”, which is where both attorneys and you have to physically go to the court and the judge asks each side whether they’re ready to resolve the case. Sometimes attorneys will ask for more time (for a good reason) or sometimes they’ll be ready to either resolve the case that day or schedule it for a resolution. Sometimes they’ll set the case for trial within the next month or so, and then you’ll finally have your day in court.
Having an attorney is important at every stage of this process. An attorney on the front-end can help get the most reasonable bond or help control damage and prevent the police from conducting an unlawful investigation. An attorney in the middle can keep good contact with you, the courts, and even help with working with employers who might have questions about your pending charges. An attorney when the case is accused or indicted will get the evidence, negotiate with the prosecutors, and then prepare and present your case at trial. It is VERY important to get an attorney as soon as possible.
If you or a loved one has pending charges, even if you don’t have a court date yet, please give us a call for a case evaluation. We’ll answer all the questions we can and help navigate the complex process as the case moves forward. We want to help.