All criminal cases, not just your case, take time to resolve. As outlined below, the criminal court process in Cobb County has lots of moving parts. Furthermore, Cobb County law enforcement officers make over 10,000 arrests a year. The sheer volume of cases clogs the complex bureaucracy.
So, if you’re wondering why your case is taking so long, much of the delay as nothing to do with your Marietta criminal defense lawyer. Additionally, delay, which is frustrating, is usually a good thing. For example, over time, witnesses relocate and/or lose interest in criminal cases. If a key witness is unavailable or uncooperative, the state’s case collapses, just like a house of cards.
Grand Jury Investigations
Some of the aforementioned arrests, mostly misdemeanors, skip this step and go straight to step two. These cases go to court a little faster. Grand jury investigations significantly delay the process.
Initially, prosecutors must prepare cases and present them to grand jurors. The grand jury then decides if prosecutors satisfied the probable cause requirement. This vague legal term has no precise definition. We do know that this standard of proof is low, and that the grand jury indictment rate is over 95 percent. However, grand jurors require evidence, not conjecture, argument, and speculation. Evidence means physical or testimonial evidence.
Filing Official Charges
Once the grand jury indicts a defendant, the statute of limitations clock usually stops ticking. As a result, officials are in no hurry to move to the next step in the process.
We weren’t kidding about the number of moving parts in the criminal justice process. At this point, a case has already gone from police investigators to grand jurors to court personnel, and the first court date might still be weeks or months away.
This process often creates issues with the charging instruments, mostly lack of evidence issues. Aggravated assault is a good example.
Assume Tom hit Mike with a baseball bat, and Mike went to the emergency room. Based on that evidence alone, grand jurors would probably issue an indictment. However, if Mike got tired of waiting at the ER and he went home without receiving treatment, when the case goes to trial, prosecutors may have difficulty proving the “aggravated” portion of an aggravated assault charge.
So, in this example, prosecutors should probably file ordinary assault charges. However, they almost certainly won’t do so. Usually, prosecutors file the most aggressive charges the facts could possibly support.
Should I Plead Guilty or Go to Trial?
Once the case finally goes to court, the ball is in a Marietta criminal defense lawyer’s court. Most attorneys advise defendants to plead guilty for several reasons.
First, pleas shorten the process. Usually, the charging process takes at least two or three months. If the grand jury is involved that delay could be closer to a year. Most people are anxious to move forward at this time, and the wait for a trial date could be another year, at least.
Second, guilty please reduce legal fees. Most criminal defense lawyers basically charge by the hour. Trial preparation is a very time-consuming process. Plea preparation, however, is a much shorter process. A Marietta criminal defense lawyer must only evaluate a case and spot possible defenses, such as:
- Procedural Defenses: Most criminal cases begin with traffic stops. Many traffic stop arrests involve Fourth or Fifth Amendment violations. Police officers often illegally seize physical evidence. Furthermore, police officers illegally seize testimonial evidence, if they interrogate defendants and don’t timely inform them of their Miranda rights.
- Substantive Defenses: The standard of proof at trial, beyond a reasonable doubt, is much higher than probable cause. Let’s go back to the aggravated assault example. If Mike went to the ER, he was probably seriously injured. But at trial, jurors cannot make such logical jumps. Legally, prosecutors must spell everything out.
- Affirmative Defenses: Compulsiona and self-defense are the most common affirmative defenses in assault cases. Gang leaders often threaten to retaliate against gang members who don’t do their bidding. Furthermore, Georgia has a very liberal self-defense law that includes the use of deadly force in some cases.
During the plea negotiation process, an attorney doesn’t have to firmly establish these defenses. Marietta criminal defense lawyers must only raise the possibility of such a defense and force a prosecutor to think twice about his/her chances at trial.
Finally, and perhaps most imp9rtantly, plea bargains increase the defendant’s control over the outcome. Regardless of the evidence, there’s simply no way to predict how a judge or jury might rule in a given case. This uncertainty adds a considerable amount of stress to an already stressful process.
The final area of delay might be the most frustrating one for Marietta criminal defense lawyers and their clients. Sometimes, plea and sentencing occur at the same time. Other times, the judge orders a pre-sentencing investigation. The investigation helps ensure that the punishment fits the crime.
We mentioned that the process slows down once the statute of limitations clock stops ticking. It slows down even further once the defendant pleads guilty or no contest. Since the state already has what it wants, probation departments submit pre-sentence investigation reports when they’re good and ready.
Additionally, a Marietta criminal defense lawyer might challenge the results of a pre-sentence investigation. Sex crimes are a good example.
If a pre-sentence report labels a defendant as a dangerous sexual predator, it’s almost impossible to later remove the defendant’s name from the sex offender list. If the defendant is at low risk of re-offense, according to the pre-sentence report, this relief is available.
So, if a Marietta criminal defense lawyer challenges the report and reduces the defendant’s risk rating, the additional delay is worthwhile.
No matter how you slice it, the criminal defense process is long and frustrating. For a free consultation with an experienced Marietta criminal defense lawyer, contact The Phillips Law Firm, LLC. Virtual, home, and after-hours visits are available.