Skip to main content

Are you a legal professional? Visit our professional site

Search for legal issues
For help near (city, ZIP code or county)
Please enter a legal issue and/or a location

How Long Can You Be Held Without Charges?

Getting arrested is probably one of the most stressful experiences you can go through in life, not to mention the hardship it can put on your loved ones. 

There's a lot to worry about during this time. You need to understand:

These concerns only get magnified the longer the police hold you in custody.

So how long can you be held without charges? There are limits based on the Constitution and federal and state laws. Read on to learn how these limits might apply to you.

The Right to a Speedy Trial: The Constitution and State Time Limits

The right to a speedy trial is guaranteed to criminal defendants by the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

A "speedy trial" basically means that the defendant must be "tried" for the alleged crimes within a reasonable time after being arrested. Being tried means the prosecutor reviews the crime and details and decides if they want to pursue a criminal case. The case could go to trial, be dropped at a later point, or be settled outside of court.

The Right to a Speedy Trial: State Time Limits

Although arrestees cannot be held without formal charges for an unreasonable amount of time, the Constitution does not spell out what this time is. 

Instead, these are typically set forth by state law, and the time period differs from state to state.

As a general rule: If you're placed in custody, your "speedy trial" rights typically require the prosecutor to decide charges within 72 hours.

Many states adhere to this 72-hour limit. Sometimes, no charges are filed, and you will be released. There will not be anything on your criminal record, but you will have an arrest record now.

Factors That Determine How Long You Are Held

How long you can be held without charges will depend on a few factors. The U.S. Supreme Court has protections for defendants. These laws stop you from being forced to serve lengthy jail times before a conviction.

Speedy trial rights also lessen the time the accused must endure the anxiety and publicity of an impending trial. This also minimizes the damage that a delay might cause to the person's ability to present a defense.

The Decision to Charge

If you're arrested, a prosecutor will review your case before making an independent decision on what charges should be filed. A prosecutor is not bound by the initial charging decision, but may later change the charged crimes once more evidence is obtained.

If the prosecutor doesn't bring charges within the time limit, the police have to let you go. A failure to do so may be a violation of your rights.

Violation of the Speedy Trial Right: Remedies

If you're detained, but not booked within a reasonable time, your attorney may go to a judge and obtain a writ of habeas corpus

A "writ of habeas corpus" is an order issued by the court instructing the police to bring you before the court so that a judge may decide if you're being lawfully held.

Get a Handle on Your Criminal Charges: Call an Attorney Today

Timing is essential, and your freedom is the most important thing. This is especially true when an arrest is made, as this can trigger strict law enforcement requirements.

If you're still unsure about how long the police may hold you without charges, you need to talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney near you.

Next Steps

Contact a qualified criminal lawyer to make sure your rights are protected.

Help Me Find a Do-It-Yourself Solution

Find a Lawyer

More Options