The word continuance is frequently used in and outside of Pennsylvania Criminal Courts when an attorney from either side (prosecution or defense) isn’t ready to proceed with trial, a pre-trial motion (Suppress Evidence, Quash), or a preliminary hearing. While it may appear that this request is simply a way to delay the start of a trial or other judicial proceedings, it is important to understand that there are strategic advantages and disadvantages to continuances for the prosecution and the defense in felony, misdemeanor and even summary charge cases.
From the prosecution’s standpoint Rule 600 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure provides that the prosecution must begin trial within 365 days after the criminal complaint is filed. This rule applies to all criminal offenses in Pennsylvania and Rule 600 doesn’t provide any more time for less serious offenses like disorderly conduct or more serious offenses like Possession with the Intent to Deliver Drugs (PWID) or even murder. If the prosecution fails to begin trial within 365 days the defense can make a motion to the court requesting that all charges be dismissed for lack of prosecution pursuant to Rule 600(A)(2). This subsection of Rule 600 states that the criminal court can dismiss the charges against the individual for lack of prosecution if all 365 days are attributable to or at the fault of the Commonwealth (the prosecution). This is where defense continuances can negatively affect a person’s case.
There are a number of reasons to request a continuance and criminal defense lawyers often do it to obtain additional time to prepare a defense, review evidence, or obtain additional evidence (discovery) through an investigation. Attorneys will also request continuances because of conflicts with other matters on the calendar which makes the attorney unavailable at a certain date and time. In addition to these scheduling issues everyone gets sick over the course of a year and continuances can also be used to address these issues. When the prosecution requests a continuance the “speedy trial” clock continues to run. While the court will more than likely always grant a continuance from the prosecution provided there is a reasonable basis for it, too many continuances will ultimately cause the speedy trial clock to run out if it delays the trial more than 365 days.
When the defense makes a continuance request, however, all the days from the date of the request until the next court date are considered “excludable” from the speedy trial clock. It is therefore possible for a defendant to be charged with an offense and not to receive a trial within a year with no Rule 600 violation. The point is you should always know why your criminal defense lawyer is requesting a continuance. Additional time to prepare a defense, explore other options, or to obtain new evidence are all good reasons. Delaying a trial, a motion or a preliminary hearing with no real strategy is simply a bad idea. Don’t be afraid to ask your attorney the purpose behind his continuance request.
Defense Continuances will not only push back the speedy trial clock for the purposes of Rule 600(A)(2), it will also delay your release on nominal bail. Rule 600(B) prevents a defendant from being held more than 180 days on any more than nominal bail. While the prosecution can and often does contest these releases (Motion to Revoke Bail), any defense continuances will not count toward this 180 day rule.
As always, if you have more questions about criminal defense check out my other article on this topic. I also invite you to read one of my books, watch my videos and subscribe to my mailing list. Stay warm this winter