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How Long Can You Be Held Without Charges?

Group of men in prison cell
By Deanne Katz, Esq. on July 31, 2012 9:50 AM

Just how long can the police hold you without charging you? The law says arrestees cannot be held without charges for an "unreasonable amount of time." But, that time differs between states.

What Happens In Between Arrest And Charges?

On TV shows about the law, the camera shows the arrest. Then it skips ahead to the accused being told what they're charged with, but it doesn't often show the process in between.

This is because police can't bring charges against a suspect. Only a prosecutor can charge a person with a crime.

It may take some time after an arrest before charges are made. 

How Long Can They Hold You Before There Is a Violation of Your Rights?

In most states, prosecutors have up to 72 hours to bring charges. But certain states, including California, give prosecutors only 48 hours before they must file charges or release the suspect.

That time limit applies to how long you can be held without charge, but it doesn't necessarily affect the prosecutor's ability to bring charges later on.

Charges Can Change in the Future

The prosecutor must file charges within the specified time, but those charges are not written in stone. The law only requires that a suspect cannot be held without charge for more than 48 or 72 hours, depending on the state.

The law doesn't prevent the prosecutor from altering the charges as more evidence becomes available.

Delaying Charges "For Good Cause"

The law also allows the prosecutor to ask a judge for more time to bring charges if they can show good cause. If the time period to hold you without charge is extended, you should be notified by law enforcement.

There's no mistaking when charges have been filed. Once the charges are established, there will be an arraignment hearing, and the charges will be read. At that point, arrestees have the option to plead guilty or not guilty.

Getting an Attorney While Arrested

After arrest, but before charges are made, the Constitution guarantees your right to an attorney

You have a right to counsel during any questioning when you aren't free to leave, but you have to specifically request an attorney before one will be provided.

If the prosecutor doesn't bring charges within the time limit, the police have to let you go. Failure to do that is a violation of your rights.

That also prevents the prosecutor from bringing charges after you're released. If you're arrested and then released without charge, prosecutors cannot later bring charges against you.

The law provides us with certain rights, but it's often our responsibility to enforce them.

If you're held without charge longer than the legal limit or prosecutors try to charge you after you've been released, find a qualified attorney and fight for your rights.

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