TV shows about the law are pretty much out of touch with reality. That goes without saying of not only Ally McBeal (the “dancing doll”), but with, The Practice (whatever happened to the cast?), Boston Legal (cigars on the rooftop and mad-cow disease), The Good Wife (do they ever lose?), and the most recent with Jim Belushi-The Defenders (they are in trial a few days after getting the case–yeah, right)-which was given the kiss of death by moving to Friday night. But Jim is doing a Broadway show now and he says he’s happy.
I shall focus on criminal matters for this article and discuss the process from arrest to resolution. I’ll focus on Georgia law, but much of this information may pertain to other jurisdictions as well. One can be charged with a misdemeanor-a lessor crime, or one may face a felony-a serious crime. In Georgia, a misdemeanor carries a sentence of up to 12 months, whereas a felony carries a sentence of one year or more. Examples of a misdemeanor are Simple Battery, Reckless Conduct, Possession of Marijuana Less than an Ounce, some moving vehicle violations. Examples of a felony are Aggravated Assault, Murder, Robbery, Possession of certain Controlled Substances (Drugs). Following an arrest, one may be “booked” into jail. The arrestee would have to put up a “bond” which can be a cash or property bond in order to secure release. Following booking into jail, a hearing is held either in court or by video, in which the arrestee goes before a judge and is informed of the charges he or she is facing. If a person has the cash or property, he may bond out. Sometimes, certain felony crimes require that the arrestee goes before a judge who will determine if bond will be granted. Not all charges have a “bond scale,” and those that do not require appearance before a judge. Thus, someone could bond out in a few hours, and some may take several days. Some people may be denied bond based on a flight risk or criminal history. There can be several agencies and individuals involved in a criminal case, to include the prosecutors, their investigators, the arresting officers, witnesses, the attorney, the attorneys staff, etc. It is not uncommon for a jurisdiction to have a backlog of cases. There are only so many people assigned to the hundreds of arrests each month in any given county. And thus, unfortunately, the length of time from arrest to the resolution of a criminal case could take months and even years. The TV shows I mentioned above depict an arrest, an investigation, and a trial, all in a matter of a few days. It just doesn’t progress that quickly–but it would be really great if it did. An attorney needs to look at all the evidence, review this evidence to determine if any motions need to be filed, as for example, were any constitutional rights violated that would necessitate a “Motion to Suppress”? An attorney may need to locate and interview witnesses, research case law, check the background and history of co-defendants. It can take a few weeks to get police and lab reports. And all this waiting can cause anguish and emotional distress on not only the person facing the criminal charge, but on that person’s family as well. Yes, there are cases that proceed quickly. Sometimes a person just wants to enter a plea without waiting to review all the evidence. Or sometimes, there is very strong evidence to establish a person’s innocence, such that the matter can be disposed of promptly. Sometimes the wheels turn quickly, sometimes they turn slowly. Sometimes it is in one’s best interest that the wheels do turn slowly–witnesses disappear, evidence gets old. The important thing to remember is that every case is different, and to not compare your case with someone else, as there are so many variables. Some matters are best pleading out, and some should be taken to trial, and up through Appeal, if justified. My Mom and Dad want to resolve each person’s case as expediently as possible, but they feel that each case must be resolved in the best interest of their client and with their client’s wishes. No one is advised to enter a plea for something they didn’t do. I hope that you never find yourself facing a criminal charge. But if you do, try and understand that “This Ain’t Ally McBeal!”
Take care, ya’ll,
Tuck the Law Dog