If a police officer arrests you or a loved one, it is important that you understand your rights throughout the entire process. More importantly, it is important that you understand for how long the station may detain you without pressing official charges. 

According to FindLaw, the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees citizens the right to a speedy trial. What this means is that the prosecutor must review the details of the alleged crime and decide whether it wants to pursue a criminal cased based on its findings within a “reasonable timeframe.” The constitution does not spell out what length of time constitutes as “reasonable” but rather, leaves that up to state legislators. 

The 72-hour rule of thumb

The length of time for which a prosecutor may detain a suspect varies from state to state and depends on a number of factors. However, most states adhere to the 72-hour rule. If the state places you under arrest, it has up to 72 hours to decide what, if any, charges to file against you. If it cannot gather sufficient evidence to file formal charges, it will likely send you home. If this is the case, you will not have a criminal record, but you will have an arrest record. 

Changing charges

It is important to note that the law does not bind the prosecutor to the initial charge. If a prosecutor suspects you committed a certain crime but cannot gather sufficient evidence of it before the 72-hour limit is up, it may charge you with a lesser crime to prevent your release. It may then continue to gather evidence and change the charges as time wears on. 

Failure to charge

If the prosecutor cannot come up with any charges within the allotted timeframe, the police must let you go. If they continue to detain you without booking you, they may be in violation of your constitutional rights.