I just finished a very complex criminal trial in the federal courthouse in Jackson this week. The trial began last Monday, and was scheduled to last two weeks, but we were able to get it done by yesterday, in one week. I suppose this has to do with the fact that this was a retrial, and the lawyers for both sides were able to move through the presentation of evidence more efficiently the second time through. In most cases, however, the the length of a trial, or each segment of a trial, is difficult if not impossible to predict.
The length of a trial depends on a number of factors:
- complexity of the issues
- witness availability
- technical difficulties with audiovisual equipment
- legal issues and motions that always arise during trial, and have to be sorted out by the Judge and the lawyers outside the presence of everyone else
- the skill (or lack thereof) of the lawyers in questioning witnesses
What does this mean to you?
- Party – if you are a “party” to the case (you are the Defendant in a criminal case, or are the person that brought the lawsuit or are defending the lawsuit in a civil case), then this is your case, and you are going to have to endure the entire proceeding, so just buckle in.
- Juror – the Judge and the court staff in every courthouse I have ever been in do the best they can to make a trial as easy and as comfortable as possible for you. Hopefully they’ll have a coffee pot, and drinks, etc. if it is an extended trial. You will not be interacting with the lawyers or parties, or even speaking to them in the hallway, except during specific sections of the trial. Just know that everyone is concerned about your time, and they are doing all they can to respect it.
- Witness – if you have been served with a subpoena and are “forced” to come to the courthouse to testify, you are the one that will likely feel the most “put-out.” You will probably have to sit in a witness room for a while until you testify, so bring a book. You may have to sit for hours, not knowing what is going on, and your testimony may only last ten minutes. If you are my witness I will certainly apologize profusely, but please understand that the proper presentation of evidence likely will require that you be called in a certain order, and so if you will be patient we’ll get done as soon as possible. If you need me to write you something for work I will be glad to do it.
Most cases, civil or criminal, do not result in a trial. But when they do they are “major productions,” and must be planned accordingly. Lawyers do not like surprises at trial, but unfortunately the time element is out of our control for the most part. As long as everyone realizes how important the process is, and exercises a little patience, hopefully justice will be served in the end.