Criminal Defence

HOW LONG AFTER A CRIME CAN YOU BE CHARGED IN THE UK?

prison cell bed

If you have engaged – or think you might have engaged – in criminal activity, you might be left wondering how long after a crime you can be charged in the UK. This is not surprising, and it is a question that criminal solicitors are asked often. Being involved in any criminal activity, whether directly or indirectly, often brings about great feelings of anxiety and guilt, and knowing how long it might take for the police to arrest you or for you to be charged with a crime is at the forefront of many people’s minds. If you find yourself in this position, it is important to know that such time periods largely depend on the crime itself. Continue reading to find out more about how long it might take to be charged with a crime, and what your rights are if you find yourself in such a position.

Do all crimes have a time limit?

First things first, it is important to know that while most crimes do have a time limit in which the accused can be charged, there are some types of crimes where there is no time limit for charges to be levied. One such type of crime is historical sexual abuse. In these cases, charges may be brought against a person at any time. That this is so with sexual crimes relates mainly to the fact that so many people feel unable to come forward to report sexual abuse, so it can often takes years – sometimes decades – for people to be charged.

What happens if I am taken into custody?

It is very important to contact a lawyer as soon as you are arrested and taken to a police station. If you do not have your own solicitor, you are entitled to the help of the duty solicitor. Upon arrest, it is likely that you will be taken into an interview room where you will be questioned by officers. If you were drunk or otherwise intoxicated when arrested, you will be kept in a cell to sober up before questioning.

Once in the interview room, the officers will ask you questions about yourself and what occurred. If they have sufficient reason to believe you did in fact commit the crime, they will try to get you to admit guilt in that interview. The interview will be recorded and may be used as evidence if the police decide that they have a case for the Crown to prosecute. The solicitor will advise you as the questions are being asked, and in particular they will try to ensure you do not answer in such a way as to incriminate yourself.

If you are feeling uncomfortable, remember that you have the right to remain silent and that you can answer ‘No comment.’ or ask your solicitor for help if you are unsure of what to say or what is happening. Throughout the interview process, you may stay in one room, you may change rooms, or you may be returned to a cell while the police decide on a course of action or review any evidence that comes in.

If the police do not have enough evidence or are satisfied throughout the interview that you are not culpable, they may release you on the spot without any further follow-up.

How long can the police hold someone?

In most cases, you may be detained in police custody for a maximum of 24 hours before you must either be charged or released without charge. If the police do not have enough information or evidence against you at the time, it may be the case that you are released on bail to return in the future to be questioned again.

If you are suspected of a serious crime – for example, murder – you may be held in custody up to 96 hours (four days). If you are arrested on terrorism grounds, you can be held in police custody without being charged for as long as 14 days.

What happens after the police interview?

If you are interviewed by police and they believe that they have enough evidence against you, they can charge you straight away at the police station. Once you have been charged, you will be given a piece of paper (the ‘charge sheet’) that outlines the charges. The charge sheet will also specify whether you have been released on bail, and what conditions are attached. At this point, you must promise to appear at the first scheduled court date. If you are held in custody, you will appear in remand court to apply for bail and the court will decide whether or not you are to be released (usually decided by considering whether you would be a risk to yourself or to the general public).

When you are released on bail, you will be given conditions to comply with. Any failure to comply with all of the conditions listed on the bail document will result in you being arrested again and your bail may be revoked, meaning that you will need to remain in custody until your next court appearance. It will be more difficult to get bail from the court if you did not comply with previous bail conditions and your bail was revoked.

Being released under investigation

The police have the option of releasing you under investigation after your interview instead of being given a bail date (where you must return to the police station). Once you are released, the investigation into the alleged crime and your alleged involvement in it will continue. The police will continue to gather evidence and interview related parties. While the police are investigating, you may be obligated to speak to them again or they may re-arrest you. You may be required to attend another interview at the station.

There are many moving parts to a police investigation so there is no way to predict how long it will take. The main factors that impact investigation length include the type of offence, evidence from witnesses, your statement and any evidence you present of your innocence (an alibi, for example). The police will normally contact you to let you know the results of their investigation, but sometimes you have to call your solicitor to find out what is happening.

After the investigation is completed, you should receive a letter stating that no further against will result against you or you will receive a postal requisition requiring you to attend court at a specific date in the future. The letter should set out the date, time, address and courtroom that you need to appear in.

How do I know whether a case will go to court?

Once an investigation has been completed by the police, they may forward all of the results over to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). At that point, either the police or the CPS will decide if the case should proceed to court. If it is decided that your case will not proceed, the victim should be advised of those reasons within five business days.

If the defendant decides to plead guilty at a court hearing, the case will not proceed to trial and the victim will not need to appear at court. If a case does proceed to trial and the victim and other Crown witnesses do not appear on the appointed court date, the Crown will direct a Stay of Proceedings, which means that they cannot proceed to prosecute the case. If that occurs, the defendant is free to go, with no consequences.

How long might I stay on bail before being charged?

The police are under a legal obligation to perform their investigations ‘expeditiously’ and ensure that the suspects liberty is not restricted by way of bail, for longer than is absolutely necessary.

However, given the shortage of police officers, the reduction in policing budgets, the reductions to prosecution budgets and the general increase in workloads for police officers; it is not uncommon for suspects to be on bail for a lengthy period before receiving a decision in their case.

Whilst minor crimes are handled relatively swiftly and charging decisions reached almost instantly, serious cases or those with any degree of complexity or volume, will usually take a long time before a decision is reached.

For a serious crime or one that is not so straight-forward, you may expect to be on bail for 3 months to 2 years. Why such a long time? Because the police will usually seize paperwork from your addresses, seize digital devices and retrieve samples for forensic analysis. All this material must be sent to third party experts who analyse them and prepare reports for the police, who must then seek advice from the prosecutors. After this, the police will need time to consider their strategy and think of interviewing you again or conducting further enquiries to tie up any loose ends they may have found.

These processes will usually take a long time and your bail will usually be extended several times to allow the police to undertake their enquiries.

What to do if you have been – or think you might be – charged with a crime?

If you are facing criminal charges, the most important thing to do is get clear on your rights and make sure that you understand the charging procedure going forward. While such information cannot prevent you from facing criminal sanctions, knowing what is likely to happen makes the process much easier to deal with. At Stuart Miller Solicitors, we have an expert team of friendly and non-judgmental criminal lawyers who can advise you on charging time limits and charging procedures. To find out more about how we can help, please get in touch for a no-obligation consultation.

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