How Long Can You Be Held Without Charges?

When police have evidence that a suspect is the perpetrator for a crime, they’ll usually perform an arrest. However, things aren’t always so cut-and-dry, and sometimes police suspect someone of being involved with a crime but have no evidence. In these situations a person may be brought in for questioning at the police station. If the police believe you are involved with the commission of a crime, it is possible for them to hold you at the police station – but not forever!

As long as there is “reasonable suspicion” backed up by “objective facts,” the police can hold you in custody without charges. This is a result of the Terry V Ohio ruling in 1968 which allows law enforcement to stop and frisk private citizens and detain them if necessary.

As mentioned, police are not supposed to hold a suspect indefinitely without charging them with a crime. Police are allowed to detain someone as long as it takes to perform a search and/or determine whether a crime has been committed. This period usually lasts only a few minutes while you and/or your car are searched. If the police turn up with anything in your vehicle, or if they determine that you likely violated traffic law(s), they may then perform an arrest if it is warranted. If not, you may receive a ticket and be sent on your merry way.

However, in situations where serious crimes are being investigated and the police think they have the right suspect but just don’t have the evidence to immediately charge someone, California Penal Code 825 says that a person must be brought before a judge within 48 hours to determine if they should be charged with a crime or released. So, basically, the police in California are legally able to hold someone for up to 48 hours* before they must be charged or released.

During this period a person cannot be bailed out or released. Technically, they have not been arrested, let alone charged with anything, so there is no way to determine the bail amount. Plus, when police keep someone in custody that long, it is usually because they’re pretty sure they have their suspect and want to keep them close while they obtain the final bits of evidence or wait for the District Attorney’s office to file charges or something like that. 48-hour detentions aren’t all that common, and aren’t something people need to worry overmuch about.

*On weekends and court holidays where the courts are not open, police can hold a person without charges for longer than 48 hours.