How Long is This Going to Take??!
“How long is this case going to take?” I get this question all the time. It’s a completely understandable question. Nobody wants a criminal allegation much less a criminal charge hanging over their head forever. The short answer is one you’ve probably heard before: “the wheels of justice turn slowly.” This is a cliché for a reason: it’s pretty accurate.
Generally speaking a criminal case will take a lot longer than you want it to take! On the day of the incident, you may be arrested or you may not. If you are, that tends to speed things along a little. If you’re not arrested, lots of factors impact how quickly the invetigation and case filing can take (the facts of the case, the charge, the police agency investigating, how motivated the accuser is,…). Once you’re arrested, if you do not bond out of jail, that also tends to speed things along a little (people waiting in jail tend to get priority over those who bond out).
Once you get your first court setting (which depending on where your case is filed and what the charge is can range from days to months to even years from the initial incident), things tend to move more quickly (but still probably more slowly than you’d like!). At your first court setting your lawyer usually makes an initial appearance, requests discovery (all the evidence – police reports, witness statements, lab results, video/audio, etc involved in a case), and discusses the case with the prosecutor. Sometimes the prosecutor doesn’t have all the discovery that in time for that first setting. Once your lawyer gets your discovery, your lawyer has to review that discovery. Your lawyer usually represents more clients than just you, so your lawyer must find time amongst all the other clients’ court settings, meetings with clients/witnesses, etc to review your discovery. The time it takes to review the discovery also depends on how much discovery there is: some cases involve more discovery than others (many of the cases I handle involve thousands of pages of materials, hours and hours of videos, etc). Once the discovery is reviewed, then your lawyer is ready to give you feedback about your case (how strong is the evidence against you, what arguments might you have at trial, for a dismissal, or for a better plea bargain…).
Sometimes at that first court setting but many times at a later court setting the prosecutor will almost always make a plea bargain offer. I’m a firm believer that it would be irresponsible for me as your lawyer to talk to you about the offer (is it good or bad, should you consider it, negotiate, or reject it and set it for trial…) without a thorough review of the discovery first. How can you know if the offer is good or bad without knowing what the evidence the prosecutor is trying to use against you actually is?!?
As you can tell, this process (when done right) takes time. That brings me to the punchline: when it comes to how long your case is going to take, do you want it done fast or do you want it done right? Sometimes a case can be handled quickly and still be handled well (done right), but in my humble opinion, you should always err on the side of doing it right rather than just doing it quickly.