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5 Reasons Criminal Trials Are Often Delayed

Although an accused criminal is often arrested immediately following an alleged crime, that person's criminal trial may take years to complete because of delays in the proceedings. The ongoing trial of accused Colorado theater gunman James Holmes, for example, was delayed several times before jury selection began earlier this week. According to Yahoo! News, the trial has been delayed for two and a half years, more than three times the timetable recommended by the Supreme Court of Colorado for felony criminal cases. The case has already had five trial dates and two judges, with a request for a third denied. In addition, more than 1,700 motions, notices, orders, and other court documents have been filed in the case. What are some of the more common reasons for delays in a criminal trial? Here are five: Psychiatric evaluations. Criminal trials may be delayed while the defendant undergoes psychiatric evaluation to determine whether or not he is fit to stand trial. The trial of another accused gunman, Jared Loughner -- who was convicted of killing six people in a shooting in which former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was also injured -- was delayed for more than a year after Loughner was found mentally unfit. Loughner eventually plead guilty. Change of venue. In high-profile cases like Holmes', defense attorneys often ask for a change of venue, arguing that it'd be impossible for their client to get a fair trial in the jurisdiction where the crime occurred. This may lead to delays, even if the request is eventually denied, as it was in Holmes' case. More time needed to prepare. Trial delays may also be granted if attorneys can show they have not had adequate time to prepare. Judges generally have wide discretion to grant delays in order to allow attorneys to prepare or review evidence. But these requests may also be denied, as it was in the trial of George Zimmerman when his attorneys requested a six-month delay to ready their case. Scheduling conflicts. If an attorney involved in the case has a scheduling conflict with another case, a judge may agree to delay a trial in order to accommodate the attorney. In some instances, a judge may even agree to delay a trial for more personal reasons, such as the birth of a lawyer's grandchild. Emergencies. Personal emergencies, such as medical issues or family issues, may also delay a trial. But criminal trials are generally bound by a defendant's constitutional guarantee of a speedy trial (though this can potentially be waived). The need for a speedy trial may compel a judge to deny a request for a continuance, even if it means an attorney is obligated to appear in court along with her newborn baby. Find more information about criminal proceedings, criminal procedure, and a defendant's constitutional rights at FindLaw's section on Criminal Trial. Related Resources: Browse Criminal Defense Lawyers by Location (FindLaw) Zimmerman Seeks 6-Month Trial Delay (FindLaw's Blotter) Why Do DUI Cases Take So Long to Resolve? (FindLaw's Blotter) Judge Urged to Reject Rod Blagojevich Trial Delay (FindLaw Blotter)
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I-80 Drug Stops, Seizures Set Off Lawsuits

A Nevada sheriff is taking flak for his practice of stopping suspected drug runners on a rural stretch of Interstate 80 and confiscating their cash. Humboldt County Sheriff Ed Kilgore assured skeptics that the drug stops were not illegal shakedowns but lawful civil forfeitures, reports The Associated Press. Are these I-80 stop-and-seizures in step with the law? Seizing Drug Money Legally Two men have filed lawsuits against Humboldt County in federal court, alleging that deputies made illegal searches and seizures when stopping vehicles along I-80 near Winnemucca, Nevada, reports the AP. The plaintiffs were both out-of-state drivers who had been stopped in Nevada by Humboldt County deputies, who allegedly offered them their freedom in exchange for their cash and weapons. Officers can legally seize money they believe is evidence or the proceeds of criminal activity, but they need to have probable cause. This means Humboldt sheriff's deputies must have reasonable suspicion of criminal activity to stop a vehicle on I-80, and then probable cause to search the vehicle for evidence of a crime before any "drug money" can be seized. In the two lawsuits, the plaintiffs allege there were no arrests made and no drugs found, reports the AP. Without the discovery of illegal drugs or other evidence to arrest the drivers, how could these officers legally keep the cash? Civil Forfeiture Proceedings Once property is legally seized by law enforcement officers -- by warrant, probable cause, and/or community caretaking duties -- it is subject to forfeiture. In criminal forfeiture, a conviction against a defendant is used as evidence that the property was, beyond a reasonable doubt, the instruments or proceeds of a crime. In one drug case, police were forced to return marijuana to an arrestee who was released after the state's pot laws changed. However, even if a suspect isn't charged with a crime, the government can use civil forfeiture proceedings to take money they believe is involved in the drug trade. A person can save his property from forfeiture by providing evidence that the money is lawfully his, and rebutting the government's claims of illegality. It may be difficult, but it isn't impossible. In another notable case, an ex-stripper was successful in retrieving more than $1 million from forfeiture by proving she had made the money via lawful activities (i.e., stripping) and not drug dealing, as troopers had alleged. So while the system seems to favors forfeiture, if the plaintiffs in the I-80 drug stop lawsuits can prove their seized cash is legit, they should be able to get it back. Related Resources: I-80 drug stops: Rural Nevada sheriff defends tactics (Examiner.com) Property Seizure in the War on Drugs (FindLaw's Blotter) Show Him the Money: Standing to Challenge Forfeiture of Drug Cash (FindLaw's U.S. First Circuit Blog) Crime Pays, But Criminals Must Repay Everything in Forfeiture (FindLaw's U.S. Eleventh Circuit Blog)
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