One question that we are asked most frequently is “How long will it take my case to get through the legal system?” Our answer in first consultations is never one that any client likes to hear. If you are charged with a felony crime which does not plea and goes to trial then our approximation right now in Shelby County at least two years before you get a trial date. If you are charged with a misdemeanor with the County and you are waiting for your bench trial in either Jefferson or Shelby County, it will be anywhere from three to six months approximately. If you chose to appeal your misdemeanor to Circuit Court then it can be another year to a year and a half before you are reached for a Jury Trial. However, this length of time while it is a time of unknown and stress for you as a defendant; it is actually in your best interest. In the criminal system, one day the biggest case is the one that has everyone’s attention loses its luster after two years. Additionally, prosecution witnesses move, get fired, refuse to testify, recant their story and tell the truth about what happened and many other endless possibilities that can only help your case. However, we listen to our clients and with our expertise try to handle their case through the system with what works best for each individual situation. We only have so much control over when the Court is going to call a case for trial.
An overview of all the stages that a case must go through in the criminal system is lengthy. For example, in Shelby County, there is one Criminal Judge with less than one trial week a month and each felony normally takes approximately one week to try. However, other Judges in the Courthouse all assist during Jury weeks to try cases so more cases can get reached for trial. In Jefferson County, albeit it is a bigger county, they have more Criminal Judges but also a larger influx of cases and a budget that will only allow them to hire so many Assistant District Attorneys to prosecute the cases. As you see, there are many reasons and factors that explain the length of time it takes for a case to progress through the criminal justice system.
Stages of the Criminal Justice System a Case will go through:
- The Interview – When a police report is filed this technically begins the criminal proceedings. The police will typically interview witnesses that have been provided to them and they will decide who the target of the investigation is. The investigator assigned to the case will most likely call you and ask you to come voluntarily down to the police station to give a statement or simply to talk. PLEASE UNDERSTAND YOU SHOULD NOT DO THIS WITHOUT COUNSEL PRESENT. Even if you are one hundred percent innocent of the crime, you could say things that circumstantially link you to the crime and make you an accomplice. Also, it is not a fair playing field. The Supreme Court of the United States has stated that the police are allowed to lie to you in order to get a confession otherwise known as “justice.” If you are guilty of the crime, you should not even consider giving a statement and contact a lawyer immediately. We can make contact with the investigator and find out the situation and make a decision whether it is in your best interest to talk to the police. In Lara’s career as a Prosecutor, she convicted many people who would otherwise would have been found not guilty but for their initial statement to police.
- The Pre-Indictment or Pre-Arrest Packet – This is an informative process created by our firm and only used by our firm to defend you before you get too engrossed in the criminal justice system. It is a proactive approach and is not appropriate in every case but we have had good luck with it in several cases. Please contact our firm for further information on this innovative approach created by our unique team.
- The Arrest – An arrest is made when the police have gathered enough information that they have probable cause that a crime has been committed and they have obtained an arrest warrant. The second way an arrest is made is when the Grand Jury, which is only allowed to hear the Prosecutor’s version of the story and is a private, confidential process, returns a true bill, which is the equivalent of an arrest warrant. If you have counsel, we can contact the District Attorney or even the Police Officer in some cases and they will let us know when you are going to be arrested so you can turn yourself in instead of being arrested at your home in front of your children or in your work place.
- Bond/Bail – We work with many bonding companies and they can have representatives available to make your bond if you turn yourself in immediately and you never see a jail cell. However, if you are arrested, have a family member or friend call our firm and we will make arrangements with your family and instruct them on the ways to make cash, property or use a bonding company to get you out of jail. If you are in jail and have a no bond, we can file a Motion with the Court and get a very quick hearing for a Motion on whether the Judge agrees that there should be a bond set in your case. In a lot of cases, we can ask the Judge to reduce a bond or set a bond when there is not one in place. This all depends on the facts of each case independently.
- The Arraignment – This is the step in the process where you are formerly told what charges you are facing. However, if you have an attorney, you can simply waive your arraignment and your attorney can sit down with the Prosecutor and find out what discovery they have in the case to implicate you and what type of position the District Attorney’s office is taking on resolving the case.
- Grand Jury – If you are charged with a felony, this confidential and private proceeding is where a group of your peers randomly picked from the community from the Driver’s License pool decides if there is enough evidence to true bill your case which places your case in Circuit Court and out of District Court. All the mandatory discovery and plea negotiations begin after your case comes off the grand jury and is in Circuit Court. Once your case is sent to the Grand Jury, it can be 2 – 4 months before it comes off the Grand Jury with a decision. This is simply a holding pattern where there is not a lot going on in your case.
- Pre-Trial Motions / Status Conferences / Pre-Trial Dockets – Your case will be placed on a pre-trial docket while Motions are filed on your behalf asking the State for all of the exculpatory material, which is all the material that could possibly lead to your innocence that they can gather and plan to use at trial. This is also a time where the District Attorney will most likely make an offer in your case and we will discuss at length all of your options and sometimes even make a counteroffer. This is after we know all the facts, have talked to witnesses, had mental evaluations done if appropriate, had Youthful Offender hearings, subpoenaed materials for trial and most importantly, weighed the pros and cons of a trial versus a plea bargain. There is the option of a Best Interest, otherwise known as an Alford Plea, where you are pleading guilty not because you are guilty but because of the evidence against you, it is in your best interest to take the plea offer that we have negotiated on your behalf.
- Plea Negotiations – In our opinion, it is not the right approach to walk into the Prosecutor’s office and become defensive immediately. It is best to allow us to remain as nonadversarial as possible until time for trial in hopes that we can work out some type of agreement that both parties can live with to resolve the case. This is only if you wish to engage in this process. We have had many clients say that they would not take any plea because they are not guilty and we try their cases but would always convey any offer we are given to our clients because we are ethically bound to do so. One thing our firm prides itself on is preparation. Sometimes a Prosecutor simply needs to know that the defense lawyer is not afraid to try a jury trial. When selecting an attorney, we highly advise you inquire how many jury trials he or she has tried because if the answer is 0, 1 or 2, that defense lawyer will probably not get the best plea offer because the District Attorney knows that there is no way he or she will actually try the case. Never let a defense lawyer talk you into pleading guilty if it is not what you want to do – that is your sole decision to make but you should certainly heed their advice.
- Pre-Trial Motions –This is also a process in the criminal trial in which we pride ourselves because we always file numerous motions on our client’s behalf asking for evidence but more importantly, because we have done our homework. We file many more Motions in Limine than most firms in these criminal cases. This means Motions before the Trial. We will have a trial notebook prepared for each defendant and all our evidence and visuals before walking into the Courtroom. We are not the kind of law firm that take a legal pad and talk to our clients the morning of the jury trial. We will have many consultations before the trial to prepare you and your family. We will even take adults but especially children that are witnesses to the Courthouse before the trial to see the Courtroom and get an idea of where all the parties will be seated. We will use the Motions in Limine to keep out as much evidence that will taint the jury against you as possible. The most we have filed in the recent past in a non-Capital case is approximately seventeen.
- Trial – You can be assured that as a former Prosecutor and Seasoned Defense Lawyer we live this business and we work around the clock during your trial to try whatever we can ethically do to obtain a NOT GUILTY verdict for you.
- Post-Trial Motions– If you are convicted of the crime, we will file a Motion notwithstanding the Verdict and other Motions that are appropriate in your individual case. Please note, the trial Judge that made the rulings in the trial is the Judge we are asking because he has jurisdiction at this point. These motions are almost always denied despite some change in the law. The next step is the Appeals process with the Court of Criminal Appeals and the Alabama Supreme Court.
- Sentencing – We treat your sentencing as though it was another trial. We bring in exhibits, character witnesses, give arguments and summations to the Court. There are times that we use a Mitigation Expert to put together an alternative sentence that does not involve prison. However, there are times that our firm does a Mitigation Memorandum and / or a Sentencing Memorandum to present to the Judge and District Attorney before sentencing so the Judge can read our arguments before the actual sentencing hearing. We have found this to be very beneficial to our clients and in several surrounding counties; Judges have complemented our work, preparations and called it, “one of a kind.”
- Contact – IF you have any questions about any of this information or would like to inquire about any part of this process you do not understand, please feel free to contact us on our cell phones, via text, via email or at our office and speak with our secretary, Kristy Calhoun, and set up an appointment. We know that everyone has to work and it is difficult to get off work for appointments so we try very hard to accommodate our clients with night and weekend appointments.