The start of 2018 brought to Philadelphia a new district attorney, Larry Krasner. Before his inauguration, Krasner was reportedly evaluating everyone who worked for the DA’s office and he wasted no time terminating over 30 prosecutors for a variety of reasons ranging from trial skills to ethical matters.
Prosecutors play a necessary role in criminal proceedings as they must prove all elements of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt before a defendant can be convicted of a particular offense. In addition, if a defendant decides to plead guilty, a prosecutor can agree to a plea bargain that involves reduced charges or recommending a lesser sentence to the judge. This is a job that requires significant training and the turnover in the district attorney’s office will cause delays in many criminal cases across Philadelphia.
Reports noted that delays in Philly criminal courts mean that victims would have to wait longer to know the outcomes of cases. However, such delays also significantly affect another group of people – defendants facing criminal charges.
Effects of Delayed Proceedings
The criminal process is already a long one in many situations. It can be months or even years from an initial arrest to a final adjudication. If a case goes to trial, preparations can be extensive for both prosecutors and defense attorneys. Even if a case ends in a guilty plea and avoids a trial, a defendant will likely have to attend many different hearings before the plea is entered. Many circumstances may delay the process even further.
The effects of delays can be devastating if a defendant is held in custody while the case is pending. For certain alleged offenses, a judge may refuse to set bail or may set bail that a defendant cannot afford. This means that a defendant may be held behind bars before they are found guilty of the crime. The longer the criminal process, the longer the defendant will be in jail – even if they are eventually found not guilty.
Delays can also affect defendants who post bail or who were released based on personal recognizance. Having a pending criminal matter can be stressful and can affect a person’s mental state. In addition, the longer a case continues, the more court appearances will be required. Many defendants must take time off from work or school to appear at scheduled hearings and this can result in lost income or even the loss of a job.
The Right to a Speedy Trial
The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees the right to a speedy trial. Under Pennsylvania law, the following are the general time limits for a “speedy trial”:
- If a defendant is incarcerated = 180 days from when the charges were filed
- If a defendant is not incarcerated = 365 days from when the charges were filed
Not every day is counted from the date of the charges, however, as delays due to defense-related continuances or other circumstances will not be counted. If the prosecutor exercised due diligence in trying to bring the case to trial and the case is delayed due to other factors – such as a court’s calendar – it is not a violation of a defendant’s right to a speedy trial. Despite these exceptions, however, the right to a speedy trial is an important one to prevent unnecessary effects for a defendant who has not yet been convicted of a crime.
The Importance of a Defense Attorney
The reality is that many circumstances – such as mass prosecutor terminations – can exist that cause delays in the criminal process. It is critical that you have a skilled attorney who can identify when your rights are being violated and stand up for you. The right defense attorney will also do everything possible to minimize the effects of the criminal process.
The truth is that criminal cases can take a long time to resolve. However, having a defense attorney who keeps you informed of any new developments and of your rights and options can make the process easier. If you are facing charges currently in Philadelphia, your lawyer should advise you whether the shakeup in the DA’s office will affect your case.
Contact a Philadelphia Criminal Defense Law Firm as Soon as Possible
The Zeiger Firm stays up to date on all new developments in criminal law and criminal courts in the Philadelphia area. We represent clients facing a wide variety of criminal charges, from DUI to violent crimes. Contact us online or call the office at 215-546-0340 to discuss how we can assist you.