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How Long Does a Criminal Case Last?

A common question for criminal defense lawyers is how long the criminal case will last. There are many reasons your case may be taking longer than you would like. Most cases take at least a few months to work themselves out, but it can be much longer if there are delays.

No one wants to be stuck facing criminal charges and waiting on court deadlines. However, many delays are beyond the control of your lawyer, and some delays can be very beneficial for your case. Here’s why your case might be delayed.

The Court Docket Can Determine Your Case’s Length

One reason for delay is the court docket. This is the list of all other cases pending in the court. If the court is very busy, it will delay your case. A stuffed court docket is one reason why prosecutors offer plea bargains. Plea bargains can move excess cases through the courts faster.

In order for the court to schedule a date, they also have to coordinate with lawyers, prosecutors, witnesses, and other court officials to hold a proper trial. There are legal deadlines for how long the court can make you wait for your trial, so there is a deadline to look forward to.

However, your criminal defense lawyer may recommend that you waive your right to a speedy trial. We’ll talk about why this might be wise in a bit.

Complex Cases Take Longer

For high-level felonies and complex white-collar crime cases, it can take much longer for both sides to gather evidence and build the strongest cases they can. The state does not want to charge someone with a heavy crime unless they can back it up.

Thus, as a general rule, the higher your class of crime the longer your criminal case will last. Other complications, like interviewing many witnesses or gathering expert testimony, will also lengthen your case.

Delaying Your Case for Evidence Gathering

A slower speed to your case will allow your lawyer more time to gather evidence that they might not be able to in a faster trial. DNA evidence and background checks take time to do right. In some cases, your lawyer might ask for more time to get this evidence.

This is also why your lawyer might ask you to waive your right to a speedy trial. While it does make your case longer to do this, it gives your lawyer more time to build your case. It also gives you more time to settle your affairs if you lose and must go to prison.

Understanding Criminal Case Stages in Virginia

In any criminal case in Virginia, there are stages in the process. These stages can help you know where you are in the overall arc of your case. These stages include:

  • Arrest and booking 
  • Bond hearing
  • Arraignment
  • A bench case for misdemeanors
  • A preliminary hearing for felonies
  • A jury trial, should a preliminary hearing indict you
  • Sentencing, if you are convicted or plead guilty

There are numerous sub-stages that could lengthen the time between these stages. One early stage can be your search for a lawyer. If you choose to hire a lawyer after your bond hearing, there will be a stage where you’ll need to prove that you’ve hired one.

Avoid Bad Reasons for Delays

There are two reasons for a delay that you should avoid. The first is a delay on your part by failing to appear. If you fail to appear for a court date, you can be arrested and held in jail to make sure you appear for the next available opening.

The second bad reason for a delay in your criminal case is a bad lawyer. Sometimes, lawyers are lazy or get too overwhelmed and miss their own deadlines. If your lawyer does not have a good reason for delaying your case or missing a deadline, you might need to find more competent counsel.