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How Long Do Criminal Trials Typically Last in New York City?

How Long Do Criminal Trials Typically Last in New York City?

Well, that depends on a lot of factors. But generally speaking, misdemeanor trials in New York City can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Felony trials often take longer – sometimes several months. Keep reading and I’ll explain more.

Misdemeanor Trials

For misdemeanors in New York City, the trial itself usually only lasts a few days to a week or two. But it can take months for a misdemeanor case to actually get to trial. You’ll have lots of court appearances before that. There’s arraignment, pretrial hearings, motions, plea bargaining, and more. So while the trial is short, the whole case can drag on.

Some factors that affect misdemeanor trial length are:

  • Number of defendants – Multi-defendant trials take longer.
  • Number of charges – More charges equals a longer trial.
  • Type of charges – Some misdemeanors are more complex.
  • Number of witnesses – More witnesses drag things out.

Also, don’t forget about sentencing. That adds another day or two even after the trial finishes.

Felony Trials

Felony trials in New York City can take much longer than misdemeanor trials. Months, generally. Some factors that affect felony trial length are:

  • Seriousness of charges – Murder trials take longer than assault.
  • Strength of evidence – Weak cases lead to more arguments.
  • Number of defendants – Multi-defendant trials are complex.
  • Number of witnesses – Dozens sometimes.
  • Use of experts – Adds lots of testimony time.
  • Number of charges – More charges lengthens trial.

High-profile cases with lots of media attention — like celebrity trials or serial killers — often take the longest. Both the prosecution and defense know the world is watching them, so they take more time arguing every tiny detail.

Why Do Trials Take So Long?

There are a few reasons trials (especially felony trials) take so much time in New York City:

Christine Twomey
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Brendan huisman
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Guerline Menard
Guerline Menard
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Keisha Parris
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Taïko Beauty
Taïko Beauty
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divesh patel
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  1. Rules of evidence – Lawyers argue over every piece of evidence, dragging things out.
  2. Witness testimony – Direct and cross examination takes tons of time.
  3. Jury selection – It’s vital, so lawyers are very picky.
  4. Court scheduling – You can only go 6 hours a day or less.
  5. Recesses – Trials have frequent multi-day recesses.

The lawyers are also extremely thorough in high-stakes felony cases. All the “i’s” must be dotted and “t’s” crossed, you know? Careers are on the line. And in serious cases like murder or rape, no stones can be left unturned.

How Courts Try to Speed Things Up

New York courts know felony trials drag on. So judges encourage lawyers to:

  • Limit witnesses – Only key witnesses testify.
  • Limit evidence – Exclude marginally relevant evidence.
  • Finish fast – Judges pressure lawyers to move faster.
  • Limit sidebars – Reduces off-record discussions.
  • Set time limits – Caps direct and cross examination time.

Judges can also help move things along by ruling quickly on objections and other disputes. But they have to balance efficiency with making sure the trial is fair, which takes time.

Average Trial Length Statistics

The New York State Unified Court System publishes annual reports with some handy statistics on average trial lengths. Here are a few, straight from the 2017 report:

  • Average felony trial length = 11.7 days
  • Average misdemeanor trial length = 3.2 days
  • Average DUI trial length = 1.3 days

So while individual trials vary a lot, those numbers give you a decent ballpark estimate of how long trials tend to take across New York City courts.

In Conclusion…

Every trial is unique, but generally misdemeanor trials take a few days to a few weeks, while felony trials take several months. Trials drag on due to strict evidence rules, thorough witness examinations, jury scrutiny, frequent recesses, and all the procedures meant to ensure a fair trial. New York courts do try to speed things up, but justice requires time and care.

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