How Long Do the Police Have to Charge You With a Crime? (Real Answer)

Background check repair icon.Written by Background Check Repair

Criminal Records | April 22, 2022

If you’ve ever wondered, “how long do the police have to charge you with a crime?” you are not alone. Waiting for criminal charges can be agonizing and frustrating. Knowing how long the police have to press charges can help ease any worry and stress.

Luckily, if you’re worried you might be charged with a crime, there are several options to verify the amount of time the police have to charge you with the crime. These options provide the time to prepare legally for any potential charges pressed against you. Because essentially, the time frame for potential charges depends on a number of factors, including the severity of the violation, as well as state where the incident occurred.

For example, you can research the relevant statute of limitations, contact the local criminal court or local law enforcement, or conduct a background check to learn about the length of time involved.

Ultimately, the best way to know if criminal charges for any crimes have expired is to conduct a background check, typically through a third party company. Knowing “how long do the police have to charge you with a crime,” can help you determine the best option if you think you may soon be faced with criminal charges.

Are There Limitations for Pressing Criminal Charges Per State?

The first step in knowing how long do the police have to charge you with a crime is to check the statute of limitations for the specific crime you suspect. A statute of limitations prevents a defendant from being charged with a crime after a certain period of time passes, which varies based on the jurisdiction, the criminal charge, and other factors.

When determining if you could still be charged with the crime, it is important to know how much time has passed since the alleged law violation occurred. This is vital so that you can determine if the statute has expired. However, depending on the severity of the offense, the state where the offense occurred, and other related legal factors, the statute will differ.

Many US states base guidelines from the Model Penal Code, a federal code developed by the American Legal Institute, to write their statutes. The code includes typical time limits on different types of crimes, which are often similar to the statutes outlined in state laws.

According to the Moral Penal Code, for murder charges, there is no time limit. This means that a suspect can be charged with murder regardless of the length of time passed, due to the severity of the crime. In contrast, for serious felony charges, the time frame is generally around six years. For misdemeanor charges, a person can only be charged within two years of the incident. Finally, for petty misdemeanors and minor infractions, a defendant can only be charged from six months.1

How long do police have to file charges graphic explaining whether the statute of limitation law can be paused using various police techniques including investigations and warrants, answering how long do police have to charge you with a crime for criminal action.

However, the clock on a statute of limitations can sometimes be paused. For example, an individual may have committed an offense in a certain state, and then moved to a neighboring state, avoiding any charges. Seven years later, the offender returns to the original state, and is recognized by the victim, who notifies the police. In some states, since the criminal left the state, the statute of limitations was paused, allowing the criminal to still be charged with a felony. If the offender had not left the state, the statute would have expired.1

 

Cornell Law School website outlining links to the Model Penal Code.

As a safety measure, if you fear you may be arrested you should make sure someone close to you that is trustworthy knows how to find out if someone is in police custody in case you are incarcerated suddenly and need help. Furthermore, using a level 1 background check will clear all doubt on your states’ individual laws.

How Long Can the Police Arrest Someone for a Particular Crime? Should Criminal Defense Attorneys Research Applicable Statutes?

Even if a crime has exceeded its statute of limitations, it is possible it may still be brought to court by the relevant prosecutor. This is because it is not the duty of the judge to review cases for potential limitations, but of the defendant. If your attorney or criminal defense representation believes that the limit has been exceeded, they should raise an affirmative defense to convince the judge to drop or dismiss the charges. Otherwise, the charges may still possibly be brought to the court, and you could be found guilty.

Statutes of limitations help guarantee that a defendant has the right to a speedy trial, one of the most basic rights preserved by the United States Constitution. These time limits make the criminal justice system more efficient, by preventing unnecessary (or deliberate) delay. They also prevent prosecutors from abusing power by indefinitely threatening criminal charges. These statutes increase the likelihood that evidence and witnesses will be available for a trial, since they help charges be brought to a court sooner.

As mentioned, different states have their own varying statutes. In Florida, crimes of a violent nature generally have a long statute of limitations, while nonviolent crimes have shorter ones. Heinous crimes, like murder and child rape, have no time limitation, and charges can be filed against someone at any time, due to their severity. In contrast, for first degree felonies, charges can be pressed for four years. Meanwhile, for second and third degree felonies, charges can only be pressed for three years. There is only one year for second degree misdemeanors and infractions, and two years for first degree misdemeanors in Florida. Statutes for a civil offense, in contrast to criminal, typically range within one to ten years.2

In Minnesota, statutes are often longer than those in the state of Florida. There is no limit for murder, kidnapping, and child human trafficking. For most felonies, charges can be pressed for only three years. However, for bribery of a public officer and other types of fraud, the limit is six years. For financial exploitation, arson, serious cases of identify theft, and severe environmental crimes, the limit for police to press charges is five years. Misdemeanors all have a three year limit, in comparison to the one and two year limits for misdemeanors in Florida.3

You should be sure to research the applicable statutes in the state where you allegedly committed the crime, to ensure you understand its specific laws and any conditions or special regulations. Whether you live in Florida, Minnesota, or another state, relevant laws will matter for your case.

If you’re unsure what the crime will be categorized as, and cannot determine the specific statute, you could also discuss options with local law enforcement or the local criminal court. However, the police have no legal obligation to notify you of any active investigations. Instead, you could request the court clerk to search for any warrants, cases, or court dates with your name.4

After reviewing state statutes and speaking with local contacts, it may still be unclear if criminal charges will or will not be pressed against you. Ultimately, the best way to know if criminal charges for any crimes have expired is to conduct a background check. These checks are very thorough and screen multiple sources, including public records, online data, and more. Specifically, it is advised to learn how to do a background check on yourself, so that you can get results quickly.

If you’re wondering how to get a background check, there are several options available. The easiest option is to pay a fee to a third party company for a comprehensive check, which will provide a report to whoever ordered the check. This report will include criminal offenses such as misdemeanors and felons, pending arrests, previous addresses, past employment, education history, and more.

While these background checks are easy to obtain, they are not government regulated, so there may be some inaccuracies. Furthermore, there may be some outdated records, such as pending charges that were dropped. As a result, a person should exercise caution when reading from unofficial sources. Alternatively, you can also check court records, conduct a social media search, conduct an online search via Google or other search engine, or obtain a credit report.

Cornell Law School website screenshot outlining statute of limitations for how long do the police have to charge you with a crime.

 

However, each state has its own regulations on how much information can be revealed about individuals. There are also more intense checks that can reveal more information, using a social security number or fingerprint. Sometimes, counties and jurisdictions can have additional regulations. For instance, a Minnesota background check and what it reveals may vary depending on where you live in the state, due to differing county regulations.

In Florida, a criminal background check can be run on potential employees, housing applicants, and others, with (and sometimes without) the permission of the individual.

Pending criminal charges may also appear on a background check, depending on the state. This occurs when you have been charged criminally, but there has not yet been a court decision. After conducting a background check on yourself, if pending charges appear, this indicates that criminal charges are likely being brought against you. However, keep in mind that this information is not always entirely accurate.

It is important to not only ask how long do the police have to charge you with a crime, but how will you find out about your charges?

How Will I Know If I Am Charged with Crimes? If I Suspect a Charge, Should I Hire a Criminal Defense Attorney or a Team of Criminal Defense Attorneys?

When wondering how long do the police have to charge you with a crime, there are a few ways to find out, but many times professionals can help you in the process. The most reliable method is to review your USA police clearance certificate or to get a background check from the police directly, however this may be tough to do if you risk being jailed for a more serious crime.

Typically, if the police are about to file charges, you will find out via mail or an in person arrest. The most obvious way to discover your criminal charges is when police officers arrive to arrest you. During the time of arrest, the police must tell you the reason for your arrest, and may also provide a bench or court warrant at this time.5

You may be notified of your charges in other ways, such as in the mail. More specifically, you may receive a letter in the mail summoning you to court on a particular date and time for an arraignment. An arraignment is the initial court hearing after criminal charges are filed, where the judge explains your charges and requests that you enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. If you decide to plead guilty, you may be taken into custody to await your sentencing. Depending on the severity of the charges, bail to be released from jail may or may not be posted for the person, especially if he or she pleads guilty.5

Getting arrested does not mean you are guilty of a crime. It also does not necessarily mean that you have even been charged yet. If you are arrested, and being held in jail, the police generally must formally charge you within 48 hours. Ultimately, the police do not have the right to hold you any longer than this amount of time, before they file criminal charges.

When facing criminal charges, it is imperative that you obtain a criminal defense lawyer. If you are facing more serious charges like a felony, it is recommended to obtain a criminal defense attorney with extensive experience in criminal defense law. It can also be helpful for your case to hire criminal defense attorneys with experience in fighting similar charges. For example, if you are being charged for drunk driving, you have the best chance at fighting your case if you find an attorney with experience in DUI charges. You need to obtain criminal defense as soon as you are charged, to ensure you have enough time to build a credible case.

Remember, if you’re worried you may be charged with a crime, there are several options to determine the amount of time the police have to charge you. These options can help you understand potential consequences for your crime depending on which state it occurred. Furthermore, they can help you prepare legally for any potential charges pressed against you, if applicable.

Rather than worrying and feeling vulnerable and unsure about a potential charge, forewarned is forearmed. If you’re wondering, how long do the police have to charge you with a crime, your best option is to research applicable statutes of limitations and conduct a background check on yourself to find the specific answer.


References

1Bergman, P. Nolo. Criminal Statutes of Limitations. Nd. 1 Dec 2021. Web. <https://www.criminaldefenselawyer.com/criminal-defense-statute-of-limitations.cfm>

2Pirius, R. Nolo. Nolo. Florida Criminal Statute of Limitations. Nd. 1 Dec 2021. Web.  <https://www.criminaldefenselawyer.com/criminal-case-statute-of-limitations/FL-felonies-misdemeanors.htm>

3Foley, S. Findlaw. 4 September 2020. 1 Dec 2021. Web. <https://www.findlaw.com/state/minnesota-law/minnesota-criminal-statute-of-limitations-laws.html>

4Law Office of Jaimme C. McDowell. Nd. 1 Dec 2021. Web. <https://www.jmcdowelllaw.com/how-to-find-out-if-someone-has-pressed-charges-against-you/>

5The Law Offices of Gerald J. Noonan. How Can I Know if I’m Being Charged with a Crime? 7 June 2021. 27 October 2021. Web. <https://www.noonanlawma.com/how-can-i-know-if-im-being-charged-with-a-crime/>