By Kristi Tyler
If you or a loved one has ever been arrested and charged with a crime, you may find yourself wondering, “When will this nightmare be over?” Unfortunately, you will find that much of the criminal justice system fits the old saying, “Hurry up, and wait!” So, what can you expect?
How long you wait depends, in part, on what type of case you have. Is it a case of Driving While Intoxicated where a blood sample was taken? Or a case involving drugs? Or a case where physical evidence was collected by the police department? If you answered “yes,” to any of these questions, then you will typically wait several months before the state-funded crime lab tests the items in your case and issues its report.
Once the police department has the test results (if any), it will forward all of the information in your case – police report, witness statements, laboratory reports – to the District Attorney’s Office.
If your case is a misdemeanor, it will be assigned to an Assistant District Attorney in the department called “Intake.” That attorney will review your case and decide if your case gets filed. Depending on the backlog of cases, it may take weeks, or months, for that attorney to make a filing decision. In some instances, that attorney might return the case to the police agency that submitted it “for more information.” If that is the case, the wait will take longer.
If your case is a felony, then your case will be presented to the Grand Jury. The Grand Jury is a group of twelve citizens that reviews felony criminal charges to determine whether probable cause exists for the case to continue forward. The Grand Jury hears cases in secrecy and will decide if your case gets indicted and sent to a District Court, or if your case is No-Billed, with no further prosecution. The Grand Jury can only hear so many cases each session that they meet, so getting your case heard by the Grand Jury may also take some time.
Keep in mind, that being arrested is different from being officially charged with a crime. Remember that you are innocent until proven guilty and that an arrest is just that—an arrest. Being officially charged with a crime by Information (in a misdemeanor) or by Indictment (in a felony) is how the state charges you with a crime and requires you to answer the charges in court.
While all this process drags on, you wait with the stigma of an arrest or an investigation hanging over you. What should you do? First, take a deep breath. No amount of worry will hurry the process along. Next, if you were arrested and posted bond, make sure that you know the conditions attached to your bond and follow them. For example, if you bonded out on a DWI and were required to install a device on your car to test your breath for alcohol, follow those conditions. If your bond required you to avoid contact with a particular person or place, be sure to stay away.
What if you or a loved one was arrested and could not post bond? If you are in jail and a case has not been filed, the clock starts running. The state must file your case by a certain deadline, or you are entitled to bond out of jail on what is referred to as a PR, or personal recognizance, bond. Different levels of offenses have different deadlines.
This is a good time to consult an attorney who can answer your questions and guide you through the process. If your case is a felony that has not been indicted, an attorney can also advise you on how you might present favorable information to the Grand Jury. Just remember that this entire process takes some time. If your case is filed in court, you can expect it to take even more time to reach a resolution. It will, at times, seem like the “wheels of justice turn slowly.”