The answer is: it depends. You could walk into court on your first court date – which is usually a month after your arrest – and demand a trial. You will almost never get one in Wake County. That’s because there are so many cases in Wake County’s courts that, even if you wanted a trial on the first court date, there’d be no where to hold one.
Also, if you wanted to get the case over quickly, you could walk into court on the first setting and offer to plead guilty to the charge. The DA would surely take you up on the offer, since it would save him the time of proving his case. You could walk out of court with the whole thing resolved, except that you would be sentenced to some period of community service or jail, a suspension of your license, and so on.
Obviously you don’t want to do that. You want to make the DA prove his case, or at least get a better plea deal than simply agreeing to the charge.
As a result, in the real world your case will probably take at least 6 months, probably as much as a year. If you decide to appeal your case to Superior Court, your case could last 18 months to two years.
My clients often say to me, “I’d like to get this over quickly. Why do I have to wait so long?” The answer is that it’s actually in your best interests for the case to take a long time.
That’s because the longer it takes for your case to get resolved, the better the result will probably be for you. For example, memories fade. The police officer who arrested you will remember details related to your case today because he just arrested you a couple of weeks ago.
But that same police officer is going to have a worse memory of those events six months from now. In part, that’s because of the passage of time, and fading memories. But also, the same police officer will arrest several dozen more people on DWI charges in the meantime, and over time these arrests will blend together in his mind.
Since the prosecution’s best witness – sometimes only witness – is the officer, it’s best for you to wait as long as possible before bringing the case to trial.
Also, the longer you wait, the more generous the plea offer usually gets. If you ultimately decide that a plea agreement is the best way to resolve your case, you’re more likely to get a favorable plea offer when the DA is anxious to get your case off his calendar and behind him. In general, DAs prefer to get rid of older cases before they handle more recent cases. So you should try to wait until your case is “old” rather than “new.”
Waiting to resolve your case is a tactic you may want to exploit. Talk to your attorney about how this tactic can be used to help your case.