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How many times can a criminal court case be continued before they dismiss the charges against some one?

Philadelphia, PA |

my husband was arressted on may 27th for burgulary.and his hearing has been continued 5 times so far.the officers came to my home with a search warrent.but they did not find what they was looking for.they have no evidence to prove that my husband did any thing wrong,he is a hard working man.and they put in the paper that he makes his living by stealing.which is not true.what can he do to get this dropped?

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Attorney answers 3


In Pennsylvania state courts, all criminal cases must be brought to trial within 365 non-excludable AND non-excusable days of the date on which a complaint was filed. Excludable days include continuances requested by the defendant. Excusable days include continuances requested by the Judge. Frequently, if the prosecution needs a continuance and the defense does not object, it is marked down as a "defense" continuance, so it's important for your husband to ensure that that does not happen in his case.

Unfortunately, there is probably nothing that you can do to get the matter "dropped." Instead, I strongly recommend that you sit down and discuss the matter with a local attorney or public defender. He or she can ensure that your husband gets the best possible outcome for his case.

My comments are provided for general information purposes only. Nothing on this or associated pages, documents, comments, answers, emails, or other communications through Avvo should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. The information on this website is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing of this information does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. Lawyers are licensed to practice on a state by state basis; do not act on information contained on this website without first speaking to an attorney licensed to practice in your state.


It depends upon the reasons for the continuances. In Philadelphia, those in jail tend to tell others facing charges that at the third hearing it will be dismissed. This is not always the case. There are many factors. First, were some of these continuances at the preliminary hearing and others at trial stage? Were some of these continuances by the defense or considered joint continuances? Were some of these due to an officer being injured on duty? What about the court being unable to hear it on that day for whatever reason?


I'm going to assume for purposes of my answer that because he was arrested on May 27th & his case has been continued 5 times, that he's likely still at the preliminary hearing stage. As other attorneys have pointed out, the unwritten rule in Philadelphia is that if the Commonwealth is not ready at the first two listings AND the defense is ready, then the case gets marked "Must Be Tried". Which means that on the 3rd listing if the Commonwealth or DA is again not ready AND. The defense is ready, the case is usually dismissed by the court or withdrawn by the DA.

But, like e Rey rule, even unwritten ones, there are always exceptions. First, if swiftness for the Commonwealth is not available for a good reason (they're out of town on vacation, they're sick or they're a police officer who's injured on duty or testifying in federal court or elsewhere) then the DA might get an additional continuance that they wouldn't otherwise get. Also, as other attorneys have pointed out and I mentioned earlier, the defense MUST be ready at all of these listings. If not, they could be marked joint requests (where the DA & defense are both not available or ready) or defense requests (the defense is not ready).

So, why would the defense note ready? If your husband is locked up, he's obviously ready because he's simply sitting downstairs at the CJC waiting for his case to be called. If he's out in bail, he's "ready" so long as he shows up. And, because the defense almost never calls witnesses at a preliminary hearing, the defense wouldn't not be ready because a witness didn't appear for court. Therefore, the only possible reason, assuming your husband is showing up for court that the defense would not be ready would be because his attorney is unavailable. If he has a PD and he's met with them either in custody or in their office, then the PD assigned to the room will almost always be ready. My guess, therefore, is that he has a private attorney who has been court-appointed to represent your husband who is not showing up for court because he's busy with other matters or because he's hired a lawyer who is doing the same thing.

I don't know your husband's exact situation but if a case has truly been listed 5 times and hasn't gotten out of the preliminary hearing stage then there has to have been a number of defense requests. Your husband may not even be aware of this because he feels like if he shows up, he's done his part. And, he's right. Unfortunately, his attorney must be present in court and prepared to proceed or the continuances are counting against your husband through no fault of his own.

I hope that sheds some light on the situation. If you have any questions or I can be of further assistance, don't hesitate to contact me. I wish you and your husband all the best.

Brian M. Fishman

The posting of an answer to this question in no way creates an attorney-client relationship between myself and any reader. I always suggest you contact and hire a lawyer to receive legal advice.

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