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Plea Bargain Cutoff and Dates

It is a given that a great part of a court’s responsibility is to effectively and efficiently manage the case load and dockets in the court. Steps have already been taken to make the docket calls more efficient.

It is a goal of this Court that the average criminal case reach its disposition point in four months from date of indictment. That means about one month from indictment to arraignment; one month to motions; one month to pretrial; and, one month to trial. There are certainly exceptions, such as complex cases, cases involving detailed forensics, reconstruction issues and such. A complex case will receive a scheduling order tailored to that case. In most instances, however, there are few reasons why most cases cannot be disposed of in about four months.

Part of the solution is pretrial. We have set pretrial dates in most instances about 10-days or more before trial. That gives both the State and the Defense a better idea of what cases really will go to trial on a given trial date.

The policy is, with some exceptions, that the pretrial date will be the plea-bargain cutoff date. By that, the parties need to reach an agreement by the end of docket call or the defendant will be placed on the trial docket. Being placed on the trial docket does not mean a defendant cannot enter a plea. However, the plea will be an open plea to the court, and not a negotiated plea with the State. There will be no "courthouse tax" on defendants who do this. However, in order to manage and control the docket, the pretrial date will be the plea bargain cutoff date.

For appointed attorneys, this will help you with your clients. They can no longer expect to simply ride the docket until the case gets old and thus get a sweeter deal. Also, you won’t have to keep coming back to court multiple times with the same client. In short, you get paid sooner. On the other hand, if your client wants his or her day in court, which they do rightly deserve, they will be able to get it much sooner than in the past.

For private hire attorneys, the Court will certainly cut you a little slack so that you can get paid before the set disposition date. For example, your case may run on a 6-month schedule instead of a 4-month schedule. That precludes your client paying you $20 a month; that isn’t going to get you paid soon enough to do that. So, with leverage from the scheduling order, private pay attorneys should be able to get paid quicker, too. Your clients need to better understand the system and their rights in the system. They truly do need their day in court if they want it; not be delayed time and again.

The DAs have an open file policy. They have a place for you to work and review files. The District Attorneys will make time for you and make a place for you to review the files. You can even get a firm appointment time if you need it. With this change in procedure you will need to go to the DA’s Office well before docket day in order to take care of business. Court will simply be too busy to get it all done in the courtroom on docket days.