What happens if you are arrested or had police contact but no criminal charges were filed? A Criminal Defense Lawyer | Attorney’s Perspective.
As criminal defense attorneys, we get variations of this question all the time. People avoid arrest, speak with an officer and are not arrested, or are arrested and taken to jail but then released after 72 hours because no criminal charges were filed. Many hope that no charges filed means they might be off the hook. There are things you can do in the investigation stage of a case to help, but a charging decision is based on (1) the facts the prosecutor has (2) is there any immediate need to file and (3) the statute of limitations of the crime.
Prosecuting Attorneys Make Charging Decisions on their Schedule, not yours.
The decision to file a charge is always the decision of the local city, county or state prosecuting attorney and every one of these offices makes charging decisions based on case volume, degree of risk, the seriousness of charges, proof problems, and budgets and staffing issues among other things. The fact that a particular case did not get filed quickly does not mean that someone will not be charged with a crime, though this is possible. It is also equally possible that the prosecuting attorney did not see your case as a priority and is getting to it.
Cases can be filed anytime within the Statute of Limitations of each Crime.
Almost every kind of criminal charge in Washington has a limited time in which charges can be filed. This concept is called the Statute of Limitations and there are only 6 serious crimes that do not have such a time limit (murder being one of them which is why you hear of charges being filed 30 years later). The statute of limitations varies from 1 year for misdemeanors, 2 years for gross misdemeanors or longer depending on the type of felony alleged. If you know the particular crime you may be charged with, you can look this up in this statute. So, technically, prosecutors have until the end of this time period to file; however, there are motions that can be filed to dismiss charges if the delay was unfair and prejudicial to the defendant. Also read the statute carefully, this period of time does “not run during any time when the person charged is not usually and publicly resident within this state”.
Experienced criminal defense attorneys | lawyers know how to apply the language of RCW 9A.04.080 to various charges. If charges surface after a long time has gone by, you want to make sure your lawyer examines the reason for the delay as if you are prejudiced; you may have a basis for a motion to dismiss.
So you are saying, “I could have to wait for a year or more?”
Technically, yes, this is the answer most criminal defense lawyers | attorneys will give you; however, in practice, we see lower level crimes being filed within 2-6 weeks with a few going at as far as 3 months and even out to 12 months plus, in a couple of unique circumstances (sometimes prosecuting attorney offices hold off on filing charges on a large number of cases because they are waiting on the outcome of a pending appeal). With serious felonies, it really depends on the facts and a consultation is necessary. We have seen charges happen within a month, or we have seen charging decisions linger as long as 1-2 years depending on the evidence and scope of the investigation. As part of our representation and investigation of cases, we touch base with the investigating detective to get an idea of how long they expect to take to finish their reports and/or process the evidence. This often gives us an idea of when the file will make it to a senior prosecuting attorney’s desk for a charging decision. Officers take vacations, sick leave happens; but, based on experience, we get a a rough idea of what is going on.
The criminal defense lawyers | attorneys in our office have handled an enormous number of complicated cases in the criminal arena over the course of our lengthy criminal law careers. Our team is a unique blend of courtroom experience, knowledge, skills and temperament. Our lawyers know criminal cases are rarely as simple as police reports claim and our clients hire us because they want staunch and effective counsel who takes the time to make sure their rights are protected. Whether our role is as legal counsel, negotiator, or litigator, we have years of experience fighting and resolving cases with our clients’ best interests in mind.