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How Long Does a Criminal Case Take in Los Angeles?


This is a good question.  It’s asked a lot when I sit down and meet with clients and you can’t really give a specific answer to because it depends on a number of different factors.  First, is it a felony or a misdemeanor?

Felonies, in my experience usually take longer to resolve than a misdemeanor case.  In fact, many of the misdemeanor courts in Los Angeles county have a 90-day rule meaning the courts themselves have said, this case is not going to last any longer than ninety days from the date that is filed.

Entitled to a Speedy Trial

So, you could take the case to trial.  You can plea bargain.  You can try to get it dismissed, whatever you want to do.  But when that 90-day date comes up, they start to put pressure on the attorneys to get rid of the case.

Now, it’s interesting because there’s no Evidence Code or Penal Code section that says the case has to be resolved within ninety days.  There’s just rights that defendants have and the People of the State of California have that they’re entitled to a speedy trial.

So, the courts are likely trying to play off that in order to make the argument that the case needs to be resolved within ninety days.  Really, what they’re trying to do is deal with congestion in the courts where if they have too many cases, they slowly become unable to do anything in the courts because of all the different matters that they have.

Preliminary Hearing Setting Within 60 Days

As far as felonies go, you can really as a California criminal defense attorney move a case along quickly if you want because you can just set the case for preliminary hearing right away and then after the preliminary hearing, you can set the case for trial within about sixty days.How Long a Criminal Case Takes in Los Angeles

So, again, that ninety days is pretty darn close to how fast you could, if you wanted to, get a felony dealt with.  So, people say, why do I hear that these cases have taken a year or two years and there are some cases that do take that long, ,but there’s going to be a reason that these cases are taking a year or two years, and it usually has to do with a bunch of paperwork that needs to be obtained.

There is, in addition to paperwork, things like video tape and things that need to be acquired by the defense in order to properly defend the case.  Sometimes DNA is pending and that can take a long time.

I would say on average, most misdemeanor cases are going to be dealt with within sixty to ninety days and most felony cases will be dealt with within two to six months, again, depending on the type of case, how sophisticated it is and if it’s a good defense strategy, the case can take some time, then obviously, a defense attorney who knows what they’re doing is going to know how to get the time he or she needs in order to properly defend the case.

So, that’s something you definitely want to talk to your attorney about.  Sometimes people have a reason or an incentive to get their case dealt with quickly.  Other times, they have a reason or incentive to get the case to take a little bit longer than normal.

Custody Status

Another factor that really drives how long a case might take, in my opinion, is a situation where the defendant is just sitting in custody while the case is going on.  In that scenario, most defendants want to get their cases dealt with, especially if they have a chance to get out of custody once the case is dealt with.

If on the other hand, they’re not going to get out of custody, then it doesn’t make as much difference.  Sometimes people are going to get some time on their case, so the fact that they have to sit in custody for two or three months isn’t going to matter much because they’re going to get credit for that time they’re just sitting in custody.

So, this is something you definitely want to talk to your attorney about and you really need to rely on your attorney.  Sometimes your attorney will have a strategy and want the case to take some time or they’re trying to do something in the case in order to get you the best result and they need time.

Sometimes you get yourself in a situation where you’re trying to meet with a particular prosecutor in order to try to resolve the case and if that’s the scenario, then you may need to wait and be patient and continue the case a few times while you try to get yourself or yourself angled up to that prosecutor.

Developing a Strategy With You Defense Lawyer

That’s something you’re going to have to leave to your defense attorney and let them make the decision, but you certainly are entitle to sit down with the attorney and tell them you’re concerned about the case and you want to get it over with; it’s weighing on me; how long is it going to take?

What’s our strategy?  What are we looking at?  And those are certainly legitimate questions to ask as you’re sitting there trying to figure out what’s going to happen.  Because that’s the worse thing in criminal defense.

If you have a case in one of the Los Angeles courthouses, and that is not knowing what’s going to happen and having to wait.  So, that make sense to me and that’s definitely something that I speak to my clients about all the time so we’re all on the same page.

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About the Author

Named Top Los Angeles Criminal Attorney by LA Times and named one of the Top 100 criminal defense attorneys in California by the National Trial Lawyers Association. I'm the attorney other lawyers hire to defend them.