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, from understanding your rights as an inmate to wondering about when you'll be released and how to manage your life in the meantime. 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 both 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. 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, however, if you're placed in custody, your "speedy trial" rights typically require the prosecutor to decide within 72 hours which charges, if any, will be filed. Many states adhere to this 72-hour limit.
How long you can be held without charges will depend on a few factors. The U.S. Supreme Court explains that there are protections for defendants which prohibit them from being forced to serve lengthy jail times before a conviction. Speedy trial rights also lessen the time that the accused must endure the anxiety and publicity of an impending trial, and minimize the damage that 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 as to 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, then 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 period of 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 important and your freedom is paramount especially when it comes to the point at which an arrest is made, as this can trigger strict requirements for law enforcement. 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.