Criminal Jury Trial Timelines
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Most criminal cases resolved without a trial but for cases that have a trial, Alaska criminal rule 45 provides a 120 day timeline from the date the charging document is served on the defendant to the trial. Rule 45 also provides for events that “stop the clock,“ such as the filing of motions and requests for continuances. Based on these common events, most cases take longer than 120 days for the trial. Rule 45 has been suspended during the pandemic by special order. The Alaska Supreme Court recently issued a new order that changes the timeline for trial to deal with the backlog.
Criminal Rule 45 lists the following as some examples of things that “stop the clock” from running between serving the charging document and trial:
- Competency examinations and hearings
- Periods of time when the defendant is incompetent to stand trial
- Appeals to a higher court during the case
- Trial for other charges
- If the defendant agrees
- If the defendant cannot be found or is resisting returning to Alaska for trial
- Other events if the judge finds good cause for the delay
There can be practical and strategic reasons for a criminal case to take a long time to resolve, including the need for a defendant to have enough time to plan a defense or if either side needs to ask the judge to decide some issues before trial through a motion.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a period of time when the courts could not safely hold jury trials. During that time, the “clock” was stopped. All timelines for the state to bring a case to trial were paused. Some jury trials occurred when COVID-19 safety protocol could be followed. In addition, cases could still proceed if the parties reached a settlement, or if the defendant wanted a trial by a judge.
A new order was issued by the Alaska Supreme Court July 21, 2021 to re-start the “clock” for jury trials on September 13, 2021 with the following timelines:
- For felony cases that started before September 13, 2021, the state will have 200 days to bring the case to trial. The 200-day clock will start running on September 13, 2021. All guidelines stated in Criminal Rule 45 still apply.
- For felony cases starting between September 13 and December 31, 2021, the state will have 180 days to bring the case to trial. All other guidelines stated in Criminal Rule 45 still apply.
- Felony cases starting January 1, 2021 or later will follow the normal 120-day timeline and guidelines stated in Criminal Rule 45.
- For misdemeanor cases that start before September 13, 2021, the normal Criminal Rule 45 timeline will apply. The 120-day clock will start running on September 13, 2021.
- Misdemeanor cases starting September 13 or later will follow the normal 120-day timeline and guidelines stated in Criminal Rule 45.
- Cases that start before September 13, 2021: If a criminal trial date is already scheduled beyond the timeline listed above, the timeline listed above does NOT apply. The trial can happen on the currently-scheduled date.
- If the parties agree on a trial date that is beyond the timeline listed above, the timeline does NOT apply and the trial can happen on the agreed-upon date.
- If a defendant is charged with a felony and a misdemeanor, the felony timeline applies, even if the state dismisses the felony or changes the felony charge to a misdemeanor charge.
When deciding which trials happen first, the judges should look at the factors listed in Supreme Court Order No. 1974:
- The age of the case;
- The requests of the parties and victims;
- Whether the defendant is in custody;
- The classification of any charged offenses;
- The number of other required participants, including jurors, victims, custodial officers, interpreters, investigators, or other lawyers;
- The facilities available for the trial or proceeding;
- The prejudice suffered by any party;
- The defendant’s access to counsel;
- Any special transportation requirements;
- Any local quarantine requirements or other health mandates;
- The COVID-19 case counts and risk levels for the area or location; and
- Any special health considerations for trial participants.
- The assigned judge may extend the timeline if necessary because of scheduling issues or backlog (for example, if several trials are set for the same day, and the first trial starts, the other trials may need the timeline extended until it is their turn).
- If a community has a COVID-19 surge, the Presiding Judge for that community may extend the timeline for health and safety reasons.