When Is the Next Court Date?
A lot of folks trying to navigate the criminal justice system for the first time seem to have a hard time coming to grips with the time intervals between stages in the process. More often than not, defendants and their families enter a criminal case with unrealistic expectations that the case will be concluded in a few weeks after the arrest. I have found that my spending a little extra time with my clients in the beginning can save them a lot of unnecessary stress, anxiety, and frustration.
Unrealistic expectations can be a major problem in legal matters, and criminal cases are no exception. Clients who enter a case expecting a certain outcome or expecting certain results are setting themselves up for disappointment because things like outcomes and results are subject to infinite factors and variables, many of which are outside anyone’s control. The same is true for clients who expect the steps in the process to move along quickly and flawlessly. Great lawyers help their clients develop realistic expectations by educating them early in the case about things like time intervals, possible outcomes, and the consequences of different results.
Early in the case, I tell my clients that no one, not the judge, not the prosecutor, nor anyone else knows when the case will be concluded. I tell them that, for the most part, the prosecutor is primarily responsible for moving a case along because the prosecutor bears the burden of proof. The prosecutor represents the government and has broad discretionary decision making power over such matters and need not consult with anyone, including defense attorneys, before deciding things like when to present a case to the grand jury, when to file an accusation, or when to dismiss a charge. While the prosecutor decides when to prosecute, the judge decides when to schedule court dates.
How are trial dates set, and who sets them?
In Georgia, Uniform Court Rules govern the scheduling of trial dates. Below are the applicable rules in effect as of April 7, 2015.
In Georgia Municipal Courts:
Rule 24.1. All cases shall be set for trial within a reasonable time after arraignment. The clerk, judge or the judge’s designee shall prepare a trial calendar, shall if applicable deliver a copy thereof to the clerk of court, and shall give notice in person or by mail to each counsel of record, the bondsman (if any) and the defendant at the last address indicated in court records, not less than seven (7) days before the trial date. The calendar shall list the dates that cases are set for trial, the cases to be tried at that session of court, the case numbers, the names of the defendants and the names of the defense counsel.
Rule 24.2. No case shall be postponed or removed from the calendar except by the judge.
A “reasonable time after arraignment” may be weeks or months. There is no universal standard definition of a “reasonable time after arraignment.”
In Georgia State and Superior Courts:
Rule 32.1. All indictments and special presentments shall be set for trial within a reasonable time after arraignment. The judge or designee shall prepare a trial calendar, shall deliver a copy thereof to the clerk of court, and shall give notice in person or by mail to each counsel of record, the bondsman (if any) and the defendant at the last address indicated in court records, not less than 7 days before the trial date or dates. The calendar shall list the dates that cases are set for trial, the cases to be tried at that session of court, the case numbers, the names of the defendants and the names of the defense counsel.
Rule 32.2. No case shall be postponed or removed from the calendar except by the judge.
Rules 24.2 and 32.2 make it clear that attorneys CANNOT postpone or remove a case from the calendar. While an attorney can request that the judge postpone or remove a case from the calendar, it is up to the judge AND THE JUDGE ALONE to postpone or remove the case from the calendar.
How are cases assigned to judges?
Georgia Uniform Court Rules also govern the manner by which cases are assigned to judges.
Rule 3.1. Method of Assignment
In multi-judge circuits, unless a majority of the judges in a circuit elect to adopt a different system, all actions, civil and criminal, shall be assigned by the clerk of each superior court according to a plan approved by such judges to the end that each judge is allocated an equal number of cases. The clerk shall have no power or discretion in determining the judge to whom any case is assigned; the clerk’s duties are ministerial only in this respect and he clerk’s responsibility is to carry out the method of assignment established by the judges. The assignment system is designed to prevent any persons choosing the judge to whom an action is to be assigned; all persons are directed to refrain from attempting to affect such assignment in any way. If the order or the timing of filing is a factor in determining case assignment, neither the clerk nor any member of the clerk’s staff shall disclose to any person the judge to whom a case is or will be assigned until such time as the case is in fact filed and assigned.
Rule 3.3. Exclusive Control
The judge to whom any action is assigned shall have exclusive control of such action, except as provided in these rules, and no person shall change any assignment except by order of the judge affected and as provided in these rules. In this regard an assigned judge may transfer an assigned action to another judge with the latter’s consent in which event the latter becomes the assigned judge.