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How Long to Criminal Trials Typically Last?

Let’s just start by saying that there’s really no such thing as a “typical” criminal trial. These courtroom proceedings could be related to any number of criminal charges, such as selling narcotics, domestic disputes that turned violent, theft, arson, and even murder. And as you may know, the wide variety of charges that could be related to a criminal trial come with varying degrees of seriousness, which could not only affect the eventual punishment, but also the duration and complexity of the proceedings. Further complicating the matter is the amount of evidence to be presented, the number of witness to be questioned, and the number of infractions a person is being charged with. And any number of other factors may also play a role in the relative speediness of the proceedings, such as the number of cases on the docket already. That said, a seasoned lawyer can likely estimate the approximate length of a trial based on a few factors.

First and foremost, you must consider the charges since the severity of the crime could definitely play a role in how long a trial lasts. For example, a murder charge will almost certainly take longer to try than, say, charges of driving under the influence. There are a couple of good reasons for this, starting with the level of punishment that attends each charge. Being convicted of DUI could require you to pay a fine, enter a rehabilitation program, and perhaps even give up your license for a short period of time. And depending on your profession, it could even impact your ability to get a job. But generally speaking, it’s not going to ruin your life. On the other hand, being convicted of a murder charge will almost certainly come with a penalty of a prison sentence or perhaps even death. Since the punishment for the latter is so much more severe (as are the charges), it is incumbent upon the authority that levies the charge (i.e. the state) to provide a heavy burden of proof, and this generally requires a longer trial.

The other main thing to consider when trying to determine the potential length of a criminal trial is how many witnesses will be called and how much evidence must be presented. Each step of the trial process takes time. And whether a case seems fairly cut and dry or the evidence is circumstantial or convoluted, it will all have to be sifted through during the trial. This is what we call due process and everyone accused of a crime is entitled to it.

Of course, the level of representation could also play a role. Say, for example, the accused must rely on a public defender instead of hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney. The trial could end up being shorter simply because the public defender isn’t as skilled or knowledgeable at his craft, and therefor doesn’t take all the steps he could to defend his client. A renowned criminal defense attorney, on the other hand, likely has a legion of clerks and paralegals helping him out when it comes to mounting a defense, and the trial may therefor go on longer, although the chances of acquittal could be drastically improved.

Finally, you have to consider that the jury is likely to spend more time on deliberation in a case where the penalties are more severe. If someone is on trial for getting busted with marijuana, for example, the charges may be minor enough and the evidence so clear-cut that the jury takes little time deliberating before delivering a guilty sentence. And the fines and/or jail time will likely be minor, so they won’t feel like they’re ruining a person’s life with their judgment. But a jury faced with determining whether or not someone is guilty of murder may take more time deliberating, not only because there’s more evidence to consider, but also because a conviction will lead to jail time or even corporal punishment in some cases. This is a heavy burden for jury members to bear and it may therefor require much longer deliberation. In short, there’s simply no way to tell how long a criminal trial might take. But you can probably make an educated guess based on the particulars of the trial at hand.

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