What Is The Timeframe To Resolve A Criminal Case?
Interviewer: How long will a criminal case take to resolve all the way through whether there is a trial or no trial?
Ben Kelsen: There are different levels where it can be handled by. Let’s say it’s something on a misdemeanor level – what I would say in that case when it is what we call a disorderly persons offense; that is usually handled relatively quickly – within a couple of months, I’ll say. Most of the municipal courts in New Jersey do not meet every day; they meet once a week to once every other week, so therefore it can take a little while just administratively to get it taken care of.
If you are dealing with something on the Superior Court level, an indictable offense, most of the time the first step is what is going to be called an early disposition conference. Some places don’t have it but generally it is called an early disposition conference, an EDC, where the attorney has an opportunity to speak with the prosecutor so the prosecutor can decide if they are going to keep your case or send it back down to the municipal court and downgrade it from an indictable offense into a disorderly persons offense.
That may be one possibility to get some sort of movement. The next step would be what’s called a pre-indictment conference, or a PIC. In the case of a PIC, what would happen is that, generally speaking, the prosecutor will have reviewed the file somewhat and will have a general idea of what the case is about and make a plea offer of some sort. At that point you can either take the plea or adjust the plea or perhaps ask for a relisting of the matter for another two weeks or thirty days or whatever in order to be able to consult with the client and go over the pros and cons of taking the offer.
If, for whatever reason, a pre-indictment conference is not successful in resolving the matter, it then goes to the grand jury. The timeframe within which it goes to the grand jury can be within a matter of weeks or months. That department is the longest period, or one of the longer periods. After that you will have an arraignment and a plea offer again from the prosecutor most of the time. Then it is a question from there of figuring out what the offer is and if it is worth taking or not.
Ben Kelsen: So you’ll usually know within a few weeks at least if the county prosecutor’s office plans on keeping your case or not.
The Common Case Resolutions & Sentences
Interviewer: Where do most cases resolve? Do you find that a lot of them go to trial or a lot of them will be pled out? Where do things tend to resolve themselves?
Ben Kelsen: Most cases do not go to trial and the reason for that is because you start looking at the majority of the charges and what the potentials are for exposure. So for example, if a person were to have five different third degree charges, you could be looking at consecutive sentencing, which means that if you were found guilty on all four you would have the full sentence on each of them, so you could be looking at exposure of up to 20 years as opposed to a deal which may be much less. The other type of sentencing would be concurrent sentencing, which means that every day you’d be incarcerated would count towards each one of those five sentences for the five convictions.
Generally speaking, though, people will take a deal because it is a known quantity rather than something else. A person who has a second degree charge who could be looking at ten years in state prison may want to consider taking a third degree plea and doing 18 months or three years rather than a period longer than that because they’d rather deal with the known than the unknown.
Interviewer: Are there any tactical things that happen – I’ve heard of stacking of charges or other types of things that the prosecution will do to make things seem to be far worse than they are or just to make them far worse period than they should be?
Ben Kelsen: It is not unusual for the police to throw as many charges as they can onto a case. Every action that a person does could in theory be in violation of one, two, three, four, or five different actual statutes. So if that is the case, they could be hit with a number of different charges.
Let’s take a drug case for example: you could be charged with possession of a controlled substance, possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance, possession of a controlled substance within a 1,000 feet of the school zone, possession of a controlled substance within a motor vehicle, and possession of paraphernalia because they have a Ziploc bag in the car. So this would be a whole bunch of different charges. Now for those charges, if they were done consecutively, you could be looking at 20 years in state prison.
So it may not be unusual to get all those charges. Then it may be that we could say, “Well, you can’t prove that was an attempt to distribute the drugs; there is not enough evidence to prove that.”