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How Long Can You Be Held Without Charges?

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By Deanne Katz, Esq. on July 31, 2012 9:50 AM

Just how long can the police hold you without charging you? Arrestees cannot be held without charges for an unreasonable amount of time but that time period differs between states.

On TV shows about the law, the camera shows the arrest and then the accused being told what he's charged with, but it doesn't often show the process in between.

Police can't bring charges against a suspect. Only a prosecutor has the ability to charge a person with a crime.

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

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.

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

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.

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 then 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 for that incident.

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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