It is common to arrest those accused of criminal activity immediately. Depending on the charges or the defendant, the accused may not have the option to post bail. So even though criminal trials may take years to get a conclusion, the defendant may remain in jail. In cases such as this, the incarcerated are essentially guilty until proven innocent. This is not how the criminal justice system is supposed to work.
Here in Colorado, for example, gunman James Holmes’ trial was delayed several times and had two judges attached to it (and a rejected request for a third) before the trial began. There were hundreds of motions, notices, orders and other court papers filed. The litigation took three months from opening arguments to sentencing.
5 common reasons for delays
- Change of venue: Arguing that it is impossible to find unbiased jurors in the jurisdiction where the crime allegedly occurred, the defense may ask for a venue change if the local news covers the case.
- Psychiatric evaluation: The defendant may undergo a psychiatric assessment to determine if the accused is fit to stand trial.
- More prep time needed: Criminal trials are very serious, and both sides need to have an adequate amount of time to prepare for trial or review evidence.
- Tight schedules: The courts often have busy schedules, and attorneys often work more than one case at a time, so it can be challenging to find an open slot.
- Things come up: Those involved in the case also have things going on in their own lives, which can mean health emergencies, the birth of a child or an act of God that delays the trial.
Judges usually have wide discretion to allow or deny requests. Delays often result even if the judge denies a request for psychiatric evaluation or to move venues. If the judge believes the trial is not progressing fast enough, they may deny otherwise valid requests.
Attorneys often can provide insight
The defendant’s attorney has experience working in the criminal justice system and can provide insight into how long a case will take based on the details of the case and the pace at which the prosecution and judge work. Nevertheless, there are no guarantees.