Postponing Your Court Date: The Continuance

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Here are some reasons why you may want to delay your day in court:

  • You need more time to prepare.
  • You or a key witness will be out of town.
  • You need to delay the time of your possible conviction in order to keep from accumulating too many "points" on your driving record over a specific period.

To delay your trial, make your written request for continuance at least a week (more if possible) in advance of the trial date. Send copies of your request to the police officer's department and any prosecuting official. Most continuances made on the day of trial will be denied, but usually at least one delay will be granted if it is made several weeks before the trial date. Be aware, though, that by asking for a continuance beyond the last day allowed for trial under any speedy-trial law, you give up that right. You can't later complain that you were denied a speedy trial because you yourself asked for a trial date after the speedy-trial law deadline.

Here is an example of a request for a postponement:

123 Parker St.
Berkeley, CA 94710

Jan. 1, 20xx

Clerk, Superior Court
Berkeley-Albany Judicial District
2120 Martin Luther King Jr. Way
Berkeley, California 94704

Re: People vs. Safespeed, #A-123456

Trial Date: Jan. 15, 20xx

Dear Sir or Madam:

I am scheduled to appear for trial in the above matter on Jan. 15, 20xx. Unfortunately, I will be out of town on that date due to my employer's insistence that I attend a two-week seminar in New York between Jan. 1 and Jan. 20, 20xx. I therefore request that trial be continued to Jan. 25, 20xx. Please inform me as to whether the continuance will be granted and when my trial will occur.

Sincerely,

Sam Safespeed

If you don't receive a reply before the scheduled trial date (or before you leave town), call or visit the court clerk. If the continuance hasn't been granted (or if dealing with the clerk proves fruitless), it is best, if possible, to appear in person on the trial date to see if your request has been granted. Be as prepared as you can to go to trial that day, even though you plan to ask again for a continuance. If you have a good reason and you show proof that you tried to contact the police and prosecutor in advance of the trial, your request should be granted. If you are really going to be out of town, write the judge directly, by priority mail or fax. Refer to your earlier request and ask for an urgent postponement.

Occasionally, because of an officer's scheduled vacation or other anticipated absence, the prosecutor or officer will ask the court to postpone your trial date, notifying you by mail or phone. Be sure to check if the court has actually granted the request. If not, your best approach is to show up in court on the trial date and object to the delay. This allows you to argue that you have gone through considerable trouble to come to court for trial, and it is unfair to make you return at a later date.

If it appears that the court is going to delay your trial, you should check out your state speedy-trial rules. (See How to Research Traffic Laws.) If the court has postponed the trial until after that date, you should bring this up at the new trial date and ask that the case be dismissed. You can say, "Your Honor, I move to dismiss under the speedy-trial rule, because the case was continued beyond the last date allowed for trial, without my consent."

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