How Long Will My Criminal Case Last?

October 10, 2014

A popular question asked during many of my initial consultations with unfortunate souls inexperienced in the ways of the New York criminal justice system….

I’m happy to hear that question, really.  It generally means that the person sitting across my desk has absolutely no prior experience with the court process, which is ALWAYS a good thing.  But it’s a tough question to answer.  There are a lot of factors that can affect the duration of any particular prosecution, like the nature of the charge (more serious charges often take longer to resolve), the amount of evidence involved and discovery available, the personality and politics of the prosecuting ADA, the current politics in general, down to the very work ethic and abilities of the defense attorney.  But at the end of the day, probably the most readily identifiable factor in how long your criminal case can last is, well, you!

For better or worse, the client plays an enormous role in the outcome of criminal resolutions.  So if you’re a real dick, you might want to tone it down if you’re facing a criminal prosecution.  I’ve witnessed many-a-defendant pop off in court to either the ADA or even the judge, and I can pretty much guarantee you that the case went sideways after that.  I’m happy to say that none of my clients have been guilty of such damaging conduct…yet.  I like to think I do a fairly decent job of preparing clients for what to expect in the courtroom so nothing comes up to trigger that sort of blinding rage or terror that causes someone to commit the prosecutorial equivalent of grabbing a sidearm from a court officer’s belt and plugging themselves in the leg, ả la Plaxico.  I’m sure it’ll happen to me sooner or later, and when it does I’ll be sure to have a nice long chat with that client, but I digress…

What I’m actually referring to when I say that the client affects the duration of a case is essentially the client’s tolerance for stress.  For some clients – a lot of them actually – simply being in a courtroom accused of a crime makes them physically ill, like “tears – shaking – pale – I think I’m gonna throw up – hold me up” sort of sick.  Those people typically want the case over as quickly as possible and will do whatever they have to make it happen.  And despite a valiant effort to convince them to hang on just a little longer, they hit the panic button and plead out to the very first crappy (or maybe second equally crappy) offer.  I’ve seen it.  I’ve had clients do it.  It always sucks.  That’s not what you hired an attorney to do and you really could have pulled the pin on that grenade all by yourself; no reason to blow up your well-meaning attorney in the process.

At a minimum, a defendant/client should understand that it is to their benefit to wait until as much information as possible concerning the arrest and the pending charges has been rounded up before making a decision.  That information can include discovery, either turned over voluntarily from the DA’s office or pursuant to the attorney’s written discovery demands, interviews of witness and officers, and any other relevant investigation results.  It obviously takes time to get all that done.  Then, after that information has been collected, it should be thoroughly reviewed by both the attorney, who knows what to look for legally, and the client, who knows better than anyone what happened factually.  That also takes time.  If any issues are discovered, there should be negotiations between the attorney and the ADA with an eye toward hopefully reaching some sort of deal that is better than that initial crappy offer.  Guess what?  More time.  And if further litigation is required (i.e., motions, hearings and/or trial), well then it’s time to get comfortable and buckle in for the duration (note tho, that the trial route should really only be pursued when there’s a valid reason to do so, or when we’re dealing with the exact opposite of the “walking dead” client, i.e., the “clearly-in-the-wrong-but-nonetheless-demands-their-day-in-court” client).

But remember, the client is always free to throw up the white flag whenever they want.  And the attorney is always free to tell the client why it may be a huge mistake to do so (perhaps the biggest of their lives). But that decision is always the client’s to make, and the attorney will just have to live with it either way (after taking appropriate steps to cover their own a**).  But unless there have been assurances from the prosecutor that continued delay or further litigation will actually make the offer worse (which rarely happens, at least upstate), what’s the point in rushing it?

If you ever find yourself being referred to as the “suspect” or “defendant”, then 1) immediately hire an experienced criminal defense attorney, and 2) let that attorney do his or her job, ya know, what you paid them that nice chunk of change to do in the first place. This is your life. These are you rights. And in some cases, this is your very freedom.  Don’t rush into such a significant decision just because you can’t handle the stress.  Ok, so the average criminal case may last a few months, maybe a year and change.  But the stress and consequences that can result from a criminal conviction (possibly one that could have been avoided) can and will last a lifetime.

If you or someone you love has been charged with a crime, call the experienced criminal defense attorneys at Catalano & Carpenter LLP right away at (845) 454-1919 to schedule a free consultation, or contact us online at