Due ot the COVID-19 crisis, the courts have been closed. People who have been arrested and went to jail are left wondering whether and when their case will go to court or whether they will be going back to jail.
No charge now doesn't mean no charge ever
Arrests don't always mean that someone has to be charged right away. With the COVID-19 situation, many cases of arrest don't involve an immediate criminal charge. This can be confusing, is it over or not? It might be over. It might be that the prosecutor has already reviewed the case, and decided based on the evidence, that no charge will be filed, ever. Or, it might be the case that the prosecutor, will be looking at the evidence down the line and file charges in the future. We've had cases where the prosecutor filed charges a year later.
The statute of limitations on charges
The statute of limitations (actually it's called limitation of actioins) is a deadline for filing charges. It is a window of time between the date of the incident and a future date. If the prosecutor files charges within that window of time, it is allowed even if it seems unfair or very late. The time periods are different based on the category or seriousness level of the crime. The shortest statute of limitations for criminal cases is one year from the date of incident. That is for the lowest level misdemeanor charge. It gets longer from there. A "gross misdemeanor" can be prosecuted two years after the date of incident. The most serious felonies have no limits on when they can be filed.
What the prosecutor does after an arrest
After an arrest, the prosecutor receives the police report and police investigation. The prosecutor will review the information and decide whether there is enough evidence to file charges. Often the prosecutor will seek input from the alleged victim to find out if they support the charge. This may take some time because the prosecutor has many cases to review. Some case reviews and decisions will take priority over others. The prosecutor does not have to notify anyone, including the possible defendant, about their process or timeline.
How you find out about a charge and court date
Most courts have closed or greatly reduced the cases they are handling. Cases involving someone in jail, will be handled by the court. But if someone is out of jail, the prosecutor and the court are delaying hearings. Some courts are releasing people without a court date. The court's are typically saying you'll get a court date in the mail. Every court is different. No court date now doesn't mean there won't be one in the future, so keep on your mail. If the prosecutor decides to file charges into court the court will mail notice, unless the charge is filed with a warrant
When there can be a surprise arrest or charge
If a charge gets filed it can be done without notice to you. The notice you will get is either a summons from the court that is mailed to you. Or, the police may come to arrest you if the case was filed with a warrant. Some people choose to reduce surprises about charges, court dates or arrests by making an inquiry. This inquiry is almost always best done by an attorney to avoid making mistakes.
How attorneys help after arrest but before a charge
Some people are ok with the wait and see approach. They will wait to see if they ever get arrested or charged. If they don't, great. Other people want to know what is coming there way or want confirmation that the situation is truly over. Attorneys get the police report when they can, find out if the prosecutor has the case and try to discuss the case with the prosecutor before any charges are even filed. This allows you to get ahead of the legal problem. At a minimum, this reduces or eliminates surprise. Better yet, the attorney may be able to convince the prosecutor not to file charges, or file less serious charges than they intended to and to not seek a warrant for your arrest and let you show up to court on your own.
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