How Long Is the Case Going to Take?
This is a question that is extremely difficult to answer at times. However, I understand that my clients want the case out of their life as soon as possible and would like an answer to this critical question. No one wants to be in court, paying attorneys and having their life turned upside down for years and years. I will go over a few categories of cases to give you an idea of how the cases move through the system.
Divorce and Custody Cases
My divorce and custody clients ask me “how long is this going to last?” They often say “I just want to be divorced and away from him/her.” I generally advise my clients the divorce process takes time. After a case is filed, the first setting is usually two or three months after that. All of the assets and debts need to be disclosed in a process called "discovery." If custody is an issue, I have to meet with the client and get a lot of background information about the other party. Are they abusive? Do they have a drug or alcohol problem? Do they have mental issues? Do we need a private investigator to uncover evidence? Those are just a few areas we explore. We then have to gather evidence and records to support our position, which also takes time.
If there is going to be a custody hearing, I always prepare thoroughly with my client. We go over exhibits, testimony and cross examination of the other party. I believe preparation is key to winning a case. There may be temporary hearings to decide what happens while the divorce or custody case is pending. Then there is a final hearing to decide all the issues on a permanent basis.
To schedule a hearing, the court must be available to hear the case. Sometimes the court has no openings to hear the case for two or three months or even more. The reality is the court system is filled with divorce and custody cases. The courts have schedules that the attorneys must work with. If the other side has an attorney then the judge has to calendar the case to align with both the attorneys schedules and the judge's schedule.
Once a hearing has finished, the court usually “reserves” judgment and issues a ruling later. That also can take some time as the judges hear many trials each month. They need time to review all the evidence and the law so they can issue a ruling. Once the judge issues a ruling, one or both sides can appeal if they do not agree with the judge’s decision. An appeal can easily last over a year.
However, if both parties can come to an agreement before trial, the process is much quicker. I usually tell client that if there is no trial, a case can be completed in 6 months to a year. If there is a trial, it is usually a year or more.
I have handled thousands of criminal cases from littering in the street to first degree murder. I have represented clients on DUI’s, sexual assaults, domestic batteries, drug possession and drug delivery cases to name a few. The police sometimes spend up to a year or more investigating the case before I am hired. A criminal case starts with a charging instrument called a complaint or information. It is a formal legal document setting out the charges in writing. The defendant is then arrested and taken to jail. If the defendant can post bond he is released from jail. If he cannot post the bond he stays in jail. Illinois, beginning on January 1st, 2023, is going to a cashless bail system. That means that a lot of low-level felony defendants will be released without having to post bail. However, if the judge determines a person is a danger to others, or if the crime is serious, the defendant will be released without bail and cannot post money to get out. I do not like that system but I do not make the rules.
Once a defendant is charged and knows the charges against him, a court date called a preliminary hearing is set, usually within 30 days. At that hearing the judge determines whether there is probable cause for the case to move forward. The police can just read from a report and it takes very little evidence for the case to stay in the system. I have won some cases at this stage. If the judge finds no probable cause the case is over. This rarely happens but when it does, the case is over rather quickly.
If probable cause is found, a judge is assigned to the case. In Illinois, a defendant has a right to substitute a judge within 10 days of the judge being assigned the case. Having an experienced attorney is critical at this stage. Judges are human and they may have sympathy for a certain type of defendant. Or they may look at certain crimes more harshly than another judge does. No two judges are the same; they are not robots. Only an experienced attorney can help you make the decision whether to substitute a judge.
After the judge is assigned to the case, it is set two to three months later on that judge’s court docket. The first court date is a case management setting. The State usually has provided some of the police reports and evidence to the defendant’s attorney. However, inexperienced lawyers sometimes do not know what evidence SHOULD be handed over. I always go through the documents and evidence thoroughly as I have found that there is usually more evidence than what is initially given to the defense lawyer.
After discovery has been received, the State usually makes an offer to the defendant. The defendant can accept the offer, make a counter-offer or insist on going to trial. The need for an experienced lawyer is critical at this point. My experience is that there are a lot of lawyers who do not know the first thing about a trial. They are scared to death of having the pressure of a client’s guilt or innocence in their hands. I have taken over a hundred cases to trial and know how to prepare. Make sure you ask any attorney you are considering hiring about their trial experience. Ask how many jury trials they have had. Jury trials are the most important constitutional right a defendant has; it can be the difference between a client’s freedom or years behind bars.
I generally advise my clients that if they take a plea offer to a criminal case, the process can be expected to last 6 months to a year. However, if there is a jury trial, the process can take a year to two years.
I handle all types of traffic cases, from seat belt tickets, speeding tickets, accident tickets, no insurance charges and many others. My office has a system in place where our clients do not have to appear in court. We allow our clients to pay my fee with a credit card and save them the trip of coming into the office. I personally go to court and handle the negotiations myself. If you have a CDL (Commercial Driver’s License), I make sure you keep your CDL. I always work to make sure your traffic ticket is handled efficiently, and you get the best outcome. I usually appear in court two or three times and the process usually takes anywhere from 2 months to 6 months.
The above examples are general guidelines. Some court cases take less time and some more. I always want my clients to have as little time in court as possible and strive to get the case completed in a timely manner. However, I will not sacrifice your future by handling a case hastily or in a hurried manner.