Why Do Criminal Cases Take So Long?

There is a saying among criminal defense attorneys that William Gladstone, who is credited with the “justice delayed is justice denied” quote, was clearly not a criminal defense lawyer in Texas. From a prosecutor’s standpoint, he was right. Back in my days as an Assistant District Attorney, we always believed that the faster we could bring cases to trial, the better our chances of success would be.

But from a defense standpoint, the opposite is true, especially in certain kinds of cases. Our clients certainly do not like repeated delays. But when the outcome exceeds their expectations, they understandably drop these complaints.

Better Odds at Trial

Memories fade over time. In most cases, that’s not a problem for prosecutors. Police officers are the only necessary witnesses. These individuals are essentially expert witnesses. Furthermore, they have their police reports and notes available. Most judges are very liberal when allowing officers to “refresh their memories” with these documents.

But many cases, such as property crimes and assault cases, require complaining witnesses. These individuals are not professional witnesses and do not have written reminders available. With every passing day, their testimony gets weaker and the prosecutor’s burden of proof is more daunting.

Sometimes, after many months, these witnesses are completely unavailable. Complaining witnesses often lose interest in the case, especially if they’ve come to the courthouse several times just to see the case reset. Normally, the court’s subpoena power is only effective for about 100 miles. If the witnesses move further away than that, they must voluntarily cooperate. Good luck with that.

Complete Probation Requirements Faster

Even if the case ends in a plea bargain, as most do, delay is often a good thing. A pre-sentencing delay allows defendants to complete some probation requirements in advance. For example, if the defendant knows that a fine is forthcoming, the defendant can begin saving money.

Alcohol-related offenses are another example. If the defendant completes a counselling class before sentencing, many probation officers will waive that requirement. The class taken just needs to be substantially similar to the court-ordered class.

Completing things earlier makes Code of Criminal Procedure 42A.701 proceedings easier. Once the defendant completes a third of the probation and all probation requirements (attends classes, pays fines, etc.), the defendant can petition for early discharge.

If the judge grants this petition, there is no more court supervision. The defendant is also eligible for judicial clemency, which is basically the same thing as record expunction.

Putting off a trial date is often a successful tactic. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney in Weatherford, contact Herreth Law. Home and jail visits are available.