How Long Can You Be Held in Custody?

Let’s go back to basics. As criminal defense lawyers, we are asked regularly how long can someone be held in custody without charges being filed? 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 is a lot to worry about during this time and it is important for one to understand the rights you have as an inmate, the arrest process, when and how you may be released and how to manage life during the time you are in jail. 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 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.

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.

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.

If you are 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.

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.

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer.

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