Motion to Continue a Criminal Case — Penal Code 1050 PC
Criminal cases often take months — or even years — from the time of the initial charge to the time of the trial. Still, that is not always enough time to prepare appropriately. The more moving parts a trial has, the more potential there is for a conflict that could force a delay.
Because of this, California Penal Code 1050 PC outlines a party's ability to request a continuance in a criminal case. It provides a legal way for defendants or prosecutors to request a delay in criminal hearings or trials. Depending on the case, a continuance might be asked for an entire trial or only a portion.
In other words, this statute lays out the procedures for filing a continuance. A 1050 motion to continue is a request in a criminal case to postpone a court date. The date could be for a pretrial matter or a trial.
In the legal field, this type of motion is frequently called a “1050.” Judges will only grant a 1050 motion to continue if there is good cause to do so, which is determined by the facts of the case.
A continuance motion can be filed by either the defendant's criminal defense lawyer or the prosecuting agency. If the judge decides to grant the motion, the hearing or trial is delayed for a necessary period to resolve the issue that made the continuance necessary.
Penal Code 1050 PC says, “The State of California requires all proceedings in criminal cases shall be set for trial and heard and determined at the earliest possible time. To this end, the criminal courts are increasingly congested with resulting adverse consequences to the welfare of the people and the defendant. To continue any hearing in a criminal proceeding, including the trial, a written notice must be filed and served on all parties at least two court days before the hearing sought to be continued, together with affidavits or declarations…”
Let's take a closer look at this statute below and the legal process for filing a motion to continue.
What Does the Law Say?
The Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution grants accused individuals the right to a speedy trial. By this, California Penal Code 1050 requires that all proceedings be scheduled and heard at the earliest time possible.
Subsection (a) specifically calls out the inherent problems with continuances, reading, “Excessive continuances…cause substantial hardship to victims and other witnesses.” As such, judges will not automatically grant a motion to continue without a reason that is considered “good cause.”
What Is Considered a “Good Cause?”
Penal Code 1050(e) PC notes that for a continuance to be granted, “neither the convenience of the parties nor a stipulation of the parties is in itself a good cause.”
What constitutes good cause is largely at the judge's discretion, although some reasons will regularly see motions granted. These include:
- Either the defendant or prosecution needs more time to prepare for trial;
- The defendant became ill or experienced an unexpected life change;
- Witnesses cannot be tracked down or cannot attend the scheduled court date;
- The defendant needs more time to retain a lawyer;
- The defendant has been forced to change legal counsel;
- A conflict of interest has arisen for the prosecution.
There is no set period that continuances must adhere to. The attorneys requesting the motion to continue will make their case for the time they need to proceed.
However, the judge is under no obligation to stick to that timeline. A lawyer might ask for a two-month continuance, but the judge could give them only two weeks.
For minor continuances, such as a non-serious illness, the judge may even reschedule for later the same week — it simply depends on how much time the judge feels is necessary.
Requesting a Motion to Continue: What Is the Process?
For defendants in California, the process to request a continuance is relatively simple. The exact steps, however, depend on the current stage of the trial.
If the trial does not begin for ten or more days, then a Form SC-150 (or a letter) should be submitted to the court. The judge will decide behind closed doors and send back a notice with their decision and how the case will proceed.
If the trial is in fewer than ten days, the defendant must request the continuance in person at their initial hearing. While supporting evidence that proves attempts were made to work within the court's parameters can help to secure a continuance, it is not required.
Having experienced attorneys on your side is highly recommended throughout this process. Continuances filed by the defense are often strategic decisions intended to create a chance for the accused to receive a better outcome.
Legal representation is crucial to understanding when a motion to continue will be most helpful.
Suppose a prosecutor is seeking a continuance, and the delay will violate a defendant's speedy trial rights. In that case, the case could get dismissed under Penal Code 1382 PC after filing a Serna motion.
What Happens When a Judge Denies a Continuance?
Because the United States judicial system was designed to be as fair as possible to the accused, continuances are broadly granted. Just as the party requesting a continuance must present “good cause,” a judge who denies a request must give a good reason for doing so.
When a motion to continue is denied, the judge often concludes that the requesting party has not made enough effort to handle the case within the original parameters.
If many continuances are granted on the same case, the judge may also become suspicious about the intentions of the delay.
A rejected continuance request is subject to an appeal, like every judicial decision. A motion to continue rejection and the subsequent appeals process can be time-consuming and ultimately pointless.
This is why it's essential to involve an expert criminal defense lawyer from the onset of the case. No matter the current trial stage, a defendant is always better off with legal representation.
Contact our law firm to review the case details and legal options moving forward if you need additional information. Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles, California. Feel free to contact us for a case consultation by phone or fill out the contact form.