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How Long Can a Felony Case Stay Open?

How Long Can a Felony Case Stay Open

A felony is a serious crime that is either violent or non-violent. The United States federal government defines felony as a crime that is punishable by death or imprisonment in excess of one year. Misdemeanors are lesser crimes. They are punishable by a small fine of less than one year of imprisonment.

Determination of a crime whether it is a felony or misdemeanor varies from state to state. After a trial in the court, a person who has committed a felony is known as a convicted felon.

Laws in the United States vary from state to state. Whether a crime is a felony or a misdemeanor also depends on the context and seriousness of the crime.

A convicted felon serves sentence in a state or federal prison. Persons who have committed a misdemeanor usually serve sentences in a county or local jail.

Examples of Felony

Some examples of felonies are:

  • Homicide
  • Rape
  • Arson
  • Criminal damage to property
  • Escaping from prison

Other crimes considered felonies are manslaughter, murder, robbery, and burglary. Kidnapping, human trafficking, child pornography, and assisting in a felony are also felonies.

Some examples of misdemeanor are trespassing, public intoxication, and drunk driving. Misdemeanors also include traffic violations, petty theft, shoplifting, and vandalism.

how long can felony case stay open

The distinction between a felony and misdemeanor can depend on the aggravating factors present in the crime. For example, simple assault is a misdemeanor. But it can become a felony if the assault involves a dangerous weapon. Again, it all depends on the state’s prevailing laws.

A felony expungement is when a felony charge is removed from criminal records. The duration for criminal expungement is different in different states.

The public will not be able to access any information regarding the charge after expungement. Upon expungement, the records cannot be traced as if the conviction never happened.

Types of Felonies

Felonies are generally classified under two types:

1 Intentional Felony: This kind of felony is when the offender acts with malicious intent. In these felonies, the crime is an act of deliberate intent or with malice.

2 Culpable felonies: In these felonies, the offender does not act with malice. The injury caused by the offender is unintentional. These acts are an outcome of negligence, imprudence, lack of skill, or lack of foresight.

Court Process of a Felony Trial

Each state has a different time stipulated to bring a defendant to trial. If the accused is already in jail, the time may vary.

Felony cases usually take months and sometimes even years to come to a resolution. The process can be long and frustrating. It is important to have an understanding of the process a felon goes through generally. There are exceptions though. For example, some states do not consider drunk driving a serious crime. Such cases have faster resolutions.

Law enforcement agencies conduct an investigation after the reporting of a crime. The investigation’s main objective is to ascertain facts that arise strong suspicion towards a person.

how long can the felony case stay open

If there are strong enough causes, the police can detain the person without an arrest warrant in some cases. Generally, an attorney working with the police files a complaint to the District Attorney’s office. The District Attorney’s office reviews the crime and ascertains if the crime can be proved beyond reasonable doubt in the court.  The Magistrate issues an arrest warrant if the crime meets the requirements of a court trial.

Sometimes, law enforcement agencies can detain individuals without a warrant. In such cases, the Police produce such individuals before the Magistrate at the time of filing the complaint.

The next step in the criminal process is the law enforcement agency interviews the victims and witnesses. Sometimes the attorney might interview them in person too.

Speedy Trial

Most states have a statutory law for a speedy trial for the defendants. For example, in California, the window for a speedy trial for a felon is 60 days. In case of a misdemeanor it is 30 days for those already in custody and 45 days for those not in custody.

In North Carolina, there is no statutory law for a speedy trial. It depends on the prosecutors whether to speed up a trial. Whether a defendant gets a speedy trial or not depends on four factors. They are:

1 The length of the delay in the trial

2 The reason for the delay in the trial

3 The defendants’ way of asserting their right to a speedy trial

4 Any unfair prejudice against the defendants that delayed their trial

Everybody has a fair right to a speedy trial in the United States. But in states where there is no statutory law, a defendant gets a free trial based on a few conditions. The court decides the duration of delay in a case and reasons for delay. In case of any unfair prejudice or injustice against the defendant, the court can give the defendant a speedy trial.

Steps in a Criminal Process

The major steps in a criminal process in court are:

  • Investigation of the case
  • Charging the individual
  • Arraignment
  • Entering the plea
  • Preliminary hearing
  • Pre-trial
  • Trial
  • Post-trial
  • Sentencing the defendant
  • Appealing by the defendant

What Determines the Duration of a Felony Case?

The first reason that determines the duration of a felony case is the time between arrest and filing of charges. Many felony cases can go on without a result for over a year.

Generally, the police have about 48 hours to charge a person from the time of arrest in case of not having an arrest warrant.

After the arrest and the booking of the case, the defendant is made to appear for the first time in the court. This is called the arraignment. The defendant is informed of his charges. The defendant’s rights are explained to them. The court also appoints a defense lawyer if the defendant requests for it.

At the arraignment, the defendant can plead not guilty, guilty, or no contest. This is called entering a plea. Upon entering a not guilty plea, the prosecution has the onus on itself to prove the defendant guilty.

how long can the felony case stay open guide

After the not guilty plea, the judge decides whether the defendant can be released on a bail depending on the case. A monetary bail allows a defendant to move out of custody. Sometimes the bail can be rejected and the defendant can be held in custody. This happens if the judge is not satisfied with the requirements for the defendant’s release.

Generally, the arraignment happens within 48 to 72 hours from the time of the arrest. When the defendant fails to appear in court on the assigned dates, the case gets delayed. After repeated notices, if the defendant fails to attend the court hearings, a warrant can be issued.


A felony case can take anywhere from a few months to even years depending on the complexity of the case. It is important for defendants to understand their rights and the criminal process in the courts.

The case can take a long course and can often be exhausting and taxing. Each state has different laws regarding criminal proceedings. Consulting an expert in the field is important to ensure a trial as smooth as possible.

Defendants can opt for a speedy trial. Some states do not have statutory laws for speedy trials. In such cases, the court takes the call on giving a speedy trial considering various factors.

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About Eugene Casey

Eugene works in a busy employment agency in Chicago and has nearly 20 years of experience in finding clients the perfect job. His philosophy is simple, the right match for the right position is nearly always a win-win for both the employee and the company.

When he isn't working or writing for us, he enjoys cooking and exploring the United States, one state at a time.

He lives with his wife Lisa and their two German Shepherds, Wilber and Gus.

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