Whether you're following the latest celebrity trial or dealing with a lawsuit or criminal charge yourself, you may be wondering why legal cases take so long to resolve. And sadly, there's no way to fast-forward to the end to find out the answer.
While there are some time limits on when charges or claims can be brought (see statutes of limitation) and how long a case can take (the right to a speedy trial), there are also opposing forces that can delay cases.
Every case is different, but there are some general factors that determine how long a legal case will take.
There are only so many work days in a year, and a court can only hear so many cases. Whether it's a civil case or a criminal case, the biggest factor in the resolution of legal cases is the particular court's calendar.
Even before a courtroom trial can take place, there are pre-trial motions and meetings with the judge that need to fit into the court's busy schedule. Often, it can take the court months or even years to complete the courtroom proceedings necessary to even begin an actual trial.
No matter the case, both sides want the most, and most accurate, evidence possible. And finding, sifting through, and preparing that evidence takes time.
Criminal prosecutors need to find witnesses and physical evidence of crimes. Civil attorneys must take depositions and assemble documents. Both may need to find and hire experts to testify about the evidence. All of this can add weeks or even months onto a case.
Trial and Verdict
If no settlement is reached, then the case goes to trial, the length of which will depend on the complexities of the case. The more issues, evidence, witnesses, and arguments, the longer the trial will take.
While a legal case may seem interminable and the delays costly, the procedures in place are designed to protect both parties and produce the fairest system possible. Although that may be little comfort to those of who just want to know how the legal story ends.