Criminal Trial Continuances
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What is a Continuance in a Criminal Trial?
In a criminal trial, a formal delay is known as a “continuance”. A continuance can be requested by both the defense and the prosecution, either before or during trial.
Continuance may be obtained for several different reasons, such as when a witness is missing, or if a key figure in the case has become ill. The laws governing continuances can vary by jurisdictions. However, as a general rule, continuances cannot be issued for trivial or insignificant purposes.
While they are not always granted automatically, continuances are a key element in many criminal trials. Continuances provide both parties with additional time to resolve important issues, and can help ensure the constitutional rights of criminal defendants.
How is a Continuance Obtained?
In order to obtain a continuance, the party seeking the delay must file a “motion for a continuance”. This is a written request to the court seeking a delay or suspension of the trial. The party requesting the continuance must state clearly state why a delay is necessary in the written motion.
A motion for continuance can also be filed at the defendant’s pre-trial hearing, even before trial begins. This may be necessary if the parties anticipate a delay in the future.
What are Some Valid Reasons for a Continuance?
Continuances or delays in a criminal trial can be issued for several reasons, such as:
- Inadequate Time for Preparation: Either party can request a pretrial continuance if they can prove there was not enough time to prepare for trial. The judge will need to consider various factors, such as the counsel’s health, and the complexity of the criminal issues involved.
- Illness: A continuance can be obtained if the defendant or the attorneys have become ill. This may usually require an affidavit of support from a physician. Defendants must prove that the illness will lessen their ability to function in court, and lawyers must show that no alternative counsel is available.
- Issues with Witnesses: Court proceedings can be delayed if a key witness is missing or unavailable for trial. However, the counsel must prove several factors, such as a good faith attempt to contact the witness, and that they did not cause the witness’ absence.
- Agreement between the Parties: A continuance can be issued if the parties mutually agree on a delay, and if they are able to show a good cause for the delay.
- Requirement by Law: Continuances are required by law if the defendant wasn’t actually arrested, if the defendant was not served with summons, or there will not be enough time during the court’s term to complete a full trial.
- Religious Holidays: Either side can request a delay if they are required to make a court appearance on a religious holiday observed by laws.
- Inflamed Public Sentiment: Excessive or prejudicial (biased) public sentiment can disrupt proceedings and negatively influence a jury. This is known as “inflamed public sentiment” and may result in a continuance, based on the defendant’s right to a fair trial.
- Conflicting Obligations: A prosecutor or defense attorney can request for a continuance if they have previous conflicting obligations. However, the judge may require the attorney to obtain a substitute lawyer. A common example of this is where the attorney is an active member of state legislature, and legislation is in session.
There may be several other situations that might require a continuance during the criminal trial. Again, the party seeking the continuance should clearly state their reasons for the continuance when they file the written motion with the court.
Do I Need a Lawyer for a Continuance in a Criminal Trial?
As in all criminal cases, a defendant has a right to the assistance and representation of a lawyer. If you need assistance in obtaining a continuance or delay in a criminal trial, it is best to speak with an experienced criminal attorney. Your attorney will be familiar with the court rules and regulations in your jurisdiction.
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Last Modified: 10-14-2011 04:24 PM PDT
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