June 24, 2022

Corrections Corner / Deacon Marc Kellams

From start to finish, criminal cases have several steps

Deacon Marc KellamsIn the June Corrections Corner column, we considered the process of the arrest of a person, the filing of charges and their initial hearing in court. This month, we will move forward toward trial or disposition by plea agreement.

I noted that the judge initially sets a pretrial conference. Some judges also set a trial date. For misdemeanor cases, if an initial trial date is set, it is set for what is called a bench trial, i.e., a trial heard before a judge. The defendant must ask for a jury trial in writing at least 10 days before the bench trial date, or it is waived. For felony cases, the case is automatically set for a jury trial, which may be waived, but only if both sides and the judge agree.

Several things can happen at this point. If the defendant believes that the judge has a reason to be biased, a motion to change venue from the judge may be filed. Those are rarely filed and even more rarely granted, because the reason must be based on cause.

If the judge knows the defendant personally or has some personal reason that he or she cannot fairly handle the case, the judge normally “recuses,” i.e., withdraws from the case. The fact that the judge has dealt with the defendant in prior cases is not considered cause.

The defendant may also ask for a change of venue from the county if there has been sufficient pre-trial publicity, and there is concern that a fair and impartial jury cannot be selected. If the judge agrees, there are two possible results. One is that the case may be transferred to another county. The second is that when there is a trial, the parties go to another county to select the jury, then the jury is transported to and from their home county for the trial.

Once any venue problems are resolved, the prosecutor and defense attorney begin their preparations for an eventual trial. This includes such things as evaluating the evidence that was collected, which often includes having the evidence analyzed for fingerprints, or in the case of controlled substances, having the substances transported to the Indiana State Police Laboratory in Indianapolis for analysis. Pretrial conferences periodically occur to make sure that the case is proceeding as it should.

Criminal cases must be disposed of within a year of filing, or if the defendant remains incarcerated, within 180 days. If the person is incarcerated, and asks for a “speedy” trial, the case must be disposed of within 70 days of the date it is requested. Those dates, however, are extended when the defendant asks for or agrees to a continuance.

It is often asked why it seems to take so long for a criminal case to resolve. There are many reasons, including the need to locate and take a deposition of witnesses, have the evidence analyzed, discuss trial strategy, and most often, negotiate a plea agreement.

More to come in future columns.

(Deacon Marc Kellams is the Coordinator of Corrections Ministry for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. He can be reached at mkellams@archindy.org or call 317-592-4012.) †

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