This is a good question and it depends on the type of case and what evidence the police have. Sometimes the police are at the scene of a crime and they see the crime being committed or they're called out by some sort of a witness to the crime who identifies the perpetrator and they feel like they have whatever evidence they need and they just deal with the case right away – arrest the person and the investigation is very limited. Or they do some investigation afterward in a scenario like that where they can lock in some extra information.
Sophisticated Cases Requiring Follow-Up Investigation
When we talk about cases taking a long time to investigate, it's usually a case that's a little bit more sophisticated and difficult to prove for the police. In that scenario, the police will investigate whatever they deem appropriate, and then when they're done investigating, they're going to take the case to the prosecutors.
The prosecutors will look to whatever evidence the police have and then they'll make the decision whether to file the case on the spot or whether they send the police out for more follow-up investigation and give them specific instructions as to exactly what they want them to investigate.
As far as what investigation needs to be done, the prosecutors will make a determination as to what, if any, further investigation needs to be done. As far as how long it's going to take to investigate a particular criminal case, the answer is two-fold.
One, however long it takes to get the evidence they need to file it; and two, they're going to be looking at also a statute of limitations; and lastly, they're going to be looking at – usually in Los Angeles County as far as investigation – a year time frame.
They don't like investigations to go longer than a year because a lot of times if that happens, criminal defense attorneys can then file a motion saying you took so long to investigate this criminal case, we can no longer defend it.
Witnesses' minds have faded and you put the defense in a bad way as far as properly being able to defend this case and therefore, the case must be dismissed. This can be filed by way of a Serna motion or some other motion that makes sense related to the facts of the case.
Insufficient Evidence at Preliminary Hearing
What the police and prosecutors are trying to prevent when they take their time filing a case is the defense being able to make an argument to the judge at the preliminary hearing in a felony for example, that there's not enough evidence and get the case dismissed.
So, this whole concept of investigation really has to do with the prosecutors and police making sure they've done everything they possibly can in dealing with the case before they make that filing decision because once they file it, times start to tick and they've got to do something with the case.
Another consideration when it comes to filing cases, if they arrest somebody and the person doesn't post bail, what's going to end up happening is the prosecutors will have to get their case together quickly because that person is going to be in court within a couple of days.
If on the other hand, the person posts bail, then the prosecutors and police will have an extra thirty days – particularly in Los Angeles County – to investigate and get their case together. So, they don't know a lot of times whether or not a person is going to post bail on a case, so they don't know whether they are going to have that extra thirty days or not, so then they have to sometimes wait before they actually file a case, do their investigation, take their time and make sure that they do everything they possibly can to get all the evidence that's available out there before the defense gets their opportunity.
Lawyer to Attack Prosecutor's Case
Once the defense gets their opportunity, then the defense is going to do their investigation and the defense is going to attack the prosecution's case, and if they haven't fully investigated it, then the defense is going to make an argument that they have not brought forth all the evidence.
They have not proved their case, and therefore, the case should be dismissed. So, investigation for purpose of a criminal filing is important. Also, the prosecutors have an obligation not to file a case if they haven't fully investigated it and they don't have the evidence.
They're not necessarily in the business of prosecuting cases, as much as they are in the business of doing justice, ferreting out crime, making sure when they make moves that they make moves in an ethical manner and with all available evidence.