How Long Can a Felony Case Stay Open? -
Legal Issues

How Long Can a Felony Case Stay Open?

Unfortunately, It is a very long road through the legal process.

As felons know, there are many steps involved in determining their guilt or innocence.

This blog post will examine the question of how long a felony case can stay open.

  • Felony Arraignment
  • Felony Indictment
  • Entering a Plea
  • Statute of Limitations
  • Supporting a Felon in an Open Felony Case

Felony Arraignment

After being arrested on suspicion of having committed a crime, a person will have their first court date.  This is called an arraignment, the court proceeding at which a criminal defendant is formally advised of the charges against them and enters a plea to the charges.

Following arrest, arraignment must occur within a reasonable time, typically 48 to 72 hours, according to the Sixth Amendment, which guarantees the defendant the right to a speedy trial.

In cases in which an arraignment is not set for months, the defendant’s attorney may petition the court to dismiss the charges.  The judge will then review the cause of the delay to decide whether the delay was reasonable.

If it is determined to be unreasonable, the charges will be dismissed.  Otherwise, an arraignment date will be set, and the legal process will proceed.

Felony Indictment

A felony indictment is a written accusation presented to a judge that an individual has committed a crime.  This may be an act performed or something omitted that is punishable by the law.

A felony indictment is in the form of a document, typically read before a judge at the arraignment.

The formal arraignment does not take place, however, until the accused has been arrested and formally charged.

The purpose of a felony indictment is to inform the person of the charges and in order that legal counsel can prepare a defense.

A person is entitled to not be prosecuted until a Grand Jury has determined that there is enough evidence to support criminal prosecution and to establish exactly what the charge is.

This is guaranteed under the Fifth Amendment which states that “No person shall be held to answer for a capital or otherwise infamous crime, unless on presentment of a Grand Jury…”

In order to bring a felony indictment, the Grand Jury will not decide guilt, but the probability that a crime was committed, that the accused did it, and should be tried for it.

The decision that there is enough evidence to proceed with a trial is called a true bill while the decision that there is not enough evidence is called no bill.

The decision of the Grand Jury does not have to be unanimous.  A simple majority is enough to bring back a felony indictment.

Entering a Plea

If the defendant does not already have an attorney, the court will appoint one.

At the arraignment, the defendant will be asked to enter a plea to the charges.  The defendant can plead not guilty, guilty, or no contest.

A not guilty plea places the burden on the state to prove the accused committed the crime.  A defendant can change a not guilty plea to guilty at a later time.

If a guilty plea is entered, the judge may sentence the defendant at that time, if it is a minor crime, such as disorderly conduct.

The prosecutor and defense attorney may negotiate a sentence at the time of the arraignment.  If it is a more serious crime, the judge will set a date for the beginning of a trial.

If a defendant pleads no contest, he acknowledges that the prosecutor has enough evidence to prove he committed the crime, but he does not admit he did commit the crime.

In such circumstances, the court proceedings will continue as if he had pleaded guilty.

At this point, the judge will determine the requirements for the defendant to be released pending the ongoing investigation.  He may be released on his own recognizance, some form of bail, or held until trial.

The decision on releasing the accused depends on whether the defendant presents a danger to the community, their criminal record, how long they have been in the community and their ties to it. Also important is whether they are employed and their employment history, and whether they have a record of failing to appear for court.

At this point, the judge will set the date for the defendant’s next appearance.  That next date may be a preliminary hearing if at least one of the charges is a felony, or a pretrial hearing if the charges are a misdemeanor only.

Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations is the length of time the prosecution has before criminal charges must be filed.

The purpose of the statute of limitations is to ensure that convictions occur only on evidence, physical or eyewitness, which has not deteriorated over time.  If the statute of limitations runs out prior to a conviction, the accused is free.

The statute of limitations requires the accused to remain in the state, gainfully employed, and “visible”.

For accused living openly, legal authorities have a certain amount of time to discover them and bring them in for trial.

The statute runs only while the accused is residing in the state where the crime was committed.

If the accused moves to a different state for a period of time and then moves back, the clock on the time limit does not run while the accused was living in another state.  It restarts when they move back to the original state.

If the accused is living as a fugitive, out of state or in hiding, the time limit is suspended.  When they return to the state, the statute begins running again.

Typically, the statute of limitations is three years for a felony.  This time can be longer for sex, fraud, and murder cases.

Usually, the statute of limitations for a misdemeanor is one year.  For murder, there is no time limit.  For serious felonies, such as sex crimes or fraud, the time is six years.

The time on the limitation begins the date the crime was committed.  Even if the time limit has expired, it is up to the defendant and their attorney to raise the issue.

In cases in which a victim does not come forward until some later date, the accusation must still be made within the allowed time limitation.

Even if new laws have been passed regarding a particular category of crime since that crime was committed, the original law will stand.

The statute of limitations is slightly different depending on the state.  Some classify felonies according to seriousness.  A check on the state in question will be necessary to determine the time limit for a particular felony.

Supporting a Felon in an Open Felony Case

The legal system has many steps from the time an accused is arrested to the time a verdict is handed down.

For each step in this process, good legal counsel is essential.

This is the time when the family can come together to offer their support to their loved one as they go through the legal process.

This is the time for families to stand by the accused as they travel on the long legal road ahead.

Encourage the accused to be honest and cooperate with their attorney in order to achieve the best possible outcome.

It is important to reassure the defendant that the family and friends are there for support throughout the legal process, no matter how long it takes.

After all, it is a very difficult time for everyone involved.

So what do you think about this blog post about how long a felony case can stay open?  What is your experience with the lengthy felony process?   Please tell us in the comments below.

One response to “How Long Can a Felony Case Stay Open?”

  1. margie deckard says:

    Hello there I have a friend that is in jail now and has been for a while now and has not gotten her arraignment yet, while being in prison. She has been charged with primary crime: Larceny over $1000(Principal) and how does you apply for a Public defender, she has written the DA in Charlotte Nc , but has not heard back by mail in prison, how can I help her as being a next friend? She is indigent while in prison! What are the next steps to take in this felony charge?

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