It can take a significant period of time for a criminal case to resolve. The initial appearance in court can be weeks after an arrest, and then there may be several more dates after that (preliminary hearings, pretrial conferences, and suppression hearings are among the more common pretrial court appearances in Utah). Each court date can be weeks or months apart, meaning months or years can pass between an initial arrest and the final disposition of the case.
Crime shows on TV often say, “delay is always good from the defense.” I am not so sure. That may be the case in certain types of cases that require a lot of witnesses the government needs to contact and ensure they remain willing to testify. Most cases have just a few witnesses, which usually include government employees, such as the arresting officer, and the prosecutor can easily contact all of them. Many cases have just one civilian witness and some cases, like a DUI case, might involve no civilians. Government employees are often paid their normal salary to testify, especially if it is part of their work description as lab technicians or law enforcement officers.
Many prosecutors are in no particular hurry to resolve cases. The more populated counties in Utah have multiple prosecutors in each department and a different prosecutor might handle each court hearing for an individual case. Prosecutors are evaluated on the outcomes of cases and not necessarily on how long it takes for each case to resolve. Consequently, a prosecutor has less incentive to hurry and close a case than to make sure each case sees a favorable outcome for the government; a prosecutor could get in trouble for giving a favorable settlement to the defendant, but prolonging a low profile case for many months is rarely going to be an issue for the bosses.
Defendants, on the other hand, have every reason to want a case to come to a close. The defendant is expected to appear at each court date, possibly requiring time off work. Each appearance involves some degree of stress because it is impossible to know what will happen in court. I try to reassure my clients about the most likely outcomes, but it is hard for people to stay positive in an unfamiliar situation. I have had some clients lose their motivation to fight any longer, particularly in misdemeanor cases. Often their lives have more or less remained unchanged after the arrest, but they are tired of the hassle of repeated appearances in court. (Unfortunately, many consequences of a misdemeanor conviction do not manifest until many years later.) For defendants who are in police custody, taking a plea deal will mean there is a definitive end to incarceration instead of endless court dates eroding morale.
A client has the constitutional right to decide whether or not to accept any given plea deal. A lawyer must abide by that decision, but I will encourage a client to keep fighting if I think it is in the client’s best interest. The bottom line: patience will help get the best outcome.
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