How Long will my Criminal Case Take? (Part 1)

Happy Friday everybody, hope you had a great week.

This week, I’m going to start video one of a two-part video series that I’m going to do on a question that I get asked a lot. And that is how long should I expect my criminal case to last? How long from the time I get arrested until the time the case is over and done with, and I know what’s going to happen? So, like I said, two-part series because I don’t want this video to last 15 minutes because it is a little bit of a complicated answer. And the reason that is, is because there are two sets of variables that really dictate what that answer is. The first set of variables are variables that are outside of our control. And the second set of variables are variables that are within our control. Our control being your defense attorney’s control. So, this video is really going to focus on that first set, that set of variables that really we have no control over.

Okay so, the way it typically works in any criminal case is when a police officer arrests somebody, they book them in, they process them and then they complete their investigation after the arrest. What that means is, are there any witnesses that they need to follow up with? If it’s a drug case, is there drugs that they need to send to the crime lab? Is there any DNA evidence that they need to send off to get tested and get back? Once their investigation is complete, once they feel that they’ve gotten all the evidence that they need to collect, for the time being, then they send that case over to the District Attorney’s office.

So, that first window, that’s that first window where we don’t have a lot of control over how long that takes. We don’t have any control over how long an officer, or a detective takes to investigate an incident. We don’t know how busy they are. We don’t know what level of priority they’re giving this case. If they sent stuff off to get tested at the crime lab, we don’t know how backed up that crime lab is, or how long it’s going to take them to get those lab results back. All that is stuff that we really have no control over. And it can vary, sometimes results come back relatively quickly, sometimes they take several months. Sometimes witnesses get back to the detective very quickly, sometimes it takes a long time to track them down. So, it varies from case to case.

But, at some point, that detective’s going to send that file over to the District Attorney’s office. And it’s going to go to their intake division. Now, the intake division of the District Attorney’s office, their job is to look over that case file, and then try and determine what to do. Do we file it as a misdemeanor? Do we file it as a felony? Or do we refuse prosecution and just not file this altogether? That’s the second set, or that second stage is another area where we really have very little control over how long that process takes.

If the intake division is relatively backed up, if they have a lot of cases that have come through all at once, it’s going to take them longer than normal to go through that stack, and to figure out what they want to do with this specific case. If it’s a felony level offense they have to present that case to a grand jury. And there may not be a grand jury sequestered right now. That grand jury’s docket may be full, so we have to wait for the next round. And so, there are things like that that can also delay that intake process. And, again, that’s something that your defense lawyer really has very little control over.

Now, we can try to follow up with the DA’s office, follow up with the police department, and kind of keep an eye on where the case is. We can kind of give you an idea of this is where it’s at. We are seeing some movement, or we’re not seeing any movement, or whatever. But in terms of actively controlling, or speeding that process up, there’s really not much that we can do.

But once the intake division has made a decision, they’ve either presented the case to the grand jury, or they filed it as a misdemeanor, and it gets assigned to a court and, then at that point, the case is formally filed, at that point, we are in a much better position to control the speed of a case.

And so, next week come back, I’ll talk to you about that, and how that works because, at that point, now we are in some of those variables that we can control with how slow, or fast a case goes. So next week, I’ll talk a little bit about that but, hopefully, this gives you a little bit of insight on what happens to a case before it gets formally filed, and how long that takes can really, really vary.

So, hope everybody has a great week, have a great weekend. And I look forward to seeing you next week, and I’ll talk to you on video two.

Author Bio

James P. Whalen

James P. Whalen is the managing attorney and founder of Whalen Law Office, a Texas criminal defense firm offering personalized legal representation for various federal criminal charges. With a commitment to providing comfort and guidance during challenging times, Mr. Whalen serves as both an attorney and counselor to his clients, helping them navigate their cases while striving to restore normalcy to their lives.

In an inherently unbalanced criminal justice system, Mr. Whalen takes on cases with unwavering dedication. With decades of legal experience, he offers representation across various criminal charges, including white-collar crimes, violent crimes, drug charges, and more. Mr. Whalen’s numerous accolades, including Super Lawyer recognition and board certification in Criminal Appellate Law and Criminal Law, reflect his unwavering commitment to ethical and high-quality legal representation.

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