Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Has the SDFLA become the new rocket docket?

The Eastern District of Virginia traditionally has been referred to as the "rocket docket" because of the speed in which it disposes of cases. There is even a EDVA blog called The Rocket Docket. Other districts -- like the Eastern District of Texas and the Northern District of California -- have also been saddled with that moniker.

Criminal cases in these districts generally get tried within 70 days, absent extraordinary circumstances. And even then, the parties are lucky to get one short continuance.

This is not a good thing for criminal defendants, especially those charged with complicated document cases in which the government has been investigating for years. It puts them in a position of going to trial (where the deck is already quite stacked against them) without as much preparation as needed.

Unfortunately, our District is quickly moving toward "rocket docket" status, if we haven't achieved it already. We haven't gotten to the point where motions to continue are flat out denied, but recently, many judges in this District have started granting only very short continuances and saying that's it. Cases involving millions of documents are being forced to trial within a few months after indictment. One judge recently commented that a criminal defense attorney need not go through all of the documents because the client knows which ones are relevant.

There are still judges (I count 4 or 5) who will give the parties the time they need to prepare. But many others have hopped onto the idea that the way to go is to deny continuance requests.

I'm not really sure why the District has shifted so dramatically in recent years. I guess it forces more pleas and less trials. We have too few trials already, so this can't be a good thing for the justice system. Even though I think the policy generally hurts criminal defendants, I don't think prosecutors enjoy the rocket docket either.

What are your thoughts? Do we have a rocket docket here in South Florida? Is that a good thing?


Robert Becerra said...

I have noticed the trend toward a rocket docket as well, and no, I don't like it. Frankly, I would prefer a system like you see in civil cases whereby the parties agree to a scheduling order, including a trial date. Judge King often brings parties in very early in a case and gets everyone to agree to a trial date which is set in stone. I would prefer that to a "rocket docket".

Anonymous said...

Rocket docket clearly favors the govt.

Anonymous said...

1. Chief judge is a big proponent of this approach.
2. Rocket docket blog is inactive

Anonymous said...

David. Your nuts are the size of cantelopes.