How Long Can You Stay in Jail?

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In June 2021, the United States (U.S.) Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reported that local or county jails housed approximately 636,300 inmates. 

Approximately 185,000 (29%) of jail inmates were convicted, serving a sentence, or awaiting sentencing on a conviction. In comparison, 451,400 (71%) were unconvicted, pending court action on a current criminal charge, or held in jail for other reasons.

No matter where jail detainees fall in these categories, they and their loved ones likely struggle with one primary question: how long can jail facilities hold a person? 

Suppose the local law enforcement places you, a friend, or a family member in county jail. In that case, you probably have many questions, especially regarding individual rights. 

For instance, what is the longest period an individual can stay in county jail? Do the laws governing one’s length of stay in county jail differ in states like Texas, Florida, or California  is a one-stop site for finding people currently housed in federal and state prisons or county jails. Our free tool can give you relevant inmate and county jail information.

Read on to learn about people housed in county jails, particularly how long these facilities can hold them and the factors determining how long they can do so. 


Counties typically own and operate jails. Each state has a specific number of county jails.

The court can send offenders sentenced from two years to less than five years to a local jail or state prison.

However, some counties don’t run jails. These jurisdictions can place convicted people in another county’s jail in such cases. 

Factors That Determine How Long You Are Held

Several crucial factors determine how long jails can hold individuals without charges. 

The U.S. Supreme Court established safeguards for defendants, preventing them from spending long behind bars before a court has rendered a conviction.

Additionally, speedy trial rights shorten the time an accused person deals with exposure and anxiety associated with an impending trial. 

Such restrictions also reduce the adverse effects on their ability to mount a viable defense.

Time in Jail Depends on the Reason for Being There

People spend time in jail for various reasons. For instance, authorities may bring someone to a local precinct due to a misdemeanor crime. This offense level generally does not lead to you serving some jail time.  

In contrast, medium-to-high-level offenses almost always result in offenders staying longer behind bars. 

In a way, the question of how long someone will stay in jail depends on why they’re there in the first place. So, if you want to know how long jail officials can hold you, you can check if you belong in any of the following categories:

  • Those waiting to file pleas, be put on trial, or be sentenced
  • Those receiving shorter, less severe sentences
  • Those expecting jail or prison transfer

No matter the cause, the amount of time spent in jail depends on the situation and the charges. 

For instance, drug-related violations could mean more prolonged jail confinement than a vandalism charge.  

Knowing the details beforehand gives you a rough estimate of how long a person stays in jail after arrest.

Those Waiting to Plea, Be Tried, or Be Sentenced

Jails can serve as holding facilities for people facing court trials, including those arrested and awaiting a plea agreement, trial, or sentencing.

Judges could assign a bail amount so these people do not have to spend time in jail while waiting for their court dates.

However, those facing severe criminal charges like DUI don’t get this privilege.

Those Serving Shorter, Less Serious Sentences

People with misdemeanor (minor crime) convictions typically stay in jail rather than go to prison. 

Those Awaiting Transfer

Another potential reason for being in jail is if the person is awaiting a transfer. Those sentenced to prison but not yet transferred may be temporarily held in jail.

This short-term setup ends as soon as the prison transport arrives.

The Decision to Charge

Upon arrest, a prosecutor investigates your case before deciding what charges to file. The initial accusation does not limit a prosecutor. They may change it later as more evidence emerges.

Suppose the prosecutor is unable to bring charges within the time limit. In that case, the law enforcement agency holding you must let you go. Failure to do so may be an infringement of your rights.

What Happens After an Arrest?

After an arrest, you’re in legal limbo. You’re in the custody of the police, but you have yet to receive an official criminal charge (if the court finds you guilty). Consequently, you spend time in jail for a period of time before attending your first court hearing. 

Authorities must release you if that time expires and no prosecutor file charges against you. While waiting, you may appear before a magistrate judge to determine the bail amount

This situation differs from arraignment in that, during an arraignment hearing, you get a formal charge and must plead guilty.

How Long Can You Be Held After an Arrest?

The U.S. criminal law prohibits institutions from detaining individuals for an unreasonable amount of time without formal charges. 

However, the Constitution does not prescribe a specific time limit, so the state usually determines the detention period. Consequently, these limitations vary from state to state. 

If police officers take you in custody and bring you to a reception center for initial processing, your speedy trial rights require a charge determination within 72 hours. 

Several states uphold this 72-hour limit. In some cases, the legal system files no charges and releases you. 

But while your criminal record will not include any new entries, you will have an arrest record.

Why Is There a Hold Limit?

Time limits imposed after an arrest aim to compel the police and the district attorney’s office to determine whether sufficient evidence exists for a criminal conviction.

Holding people indefinitely without limits could allow corrupt or overzealous law agents to twist the facts and find loopholes that would indict an otherwise innocent person.

Custody time limits protect arrested individuals’ rights by doing the following:

  • Eliminate unnecessary trial delays
  • Ensure release from jail if prosecutors fail to file criminal charges

Can You Be Arrested Again?

Unfortunately, getting released without charge does not mean your legal struggles are over. You now have an arrest record, even if you haven’t received a formal criminal charge

Additionally, if new evidence surfaces, you may be re-arrested on suspicion of the same crime and undergo the same ordeal. 

That’s why ensuring that you work with a criminal defense attorney following your release is advisable. 

Your defense attorney can help ensure you have a strategy ready should you be arrested again for the same crime or an offense related to the first arrest.

What Should You Do After an Arrest?

You must exercise your rights after an arrest. Among these is the right to remain silent to avoid self-incrimination. 

It’s wise not to speak to the police about the accusations against you until your attorney is present.

Some arresting officers may seek to have a friendly chat with you, aiming to get you to admit to criminal activity. Be polite, but assert your rights.

You may also face interrogation following an arrest and while awaiting charges. No matter the situation, make it clear to law enforcement that you will not answer their questions until you have spoken with your attorney. 

The bottom line? Do not speak without consulting with your attorney unless you require immediate medical attention. Remember that you have the right to do so and should not be penalized for exercising this right.

What Are Some Things to Keep in Mind if You or Someone You Know Is Ever Arrested?

First and foremost, stay calm and cooperate with the police. Then, you should seek legal counsel and refrain from answering inquiries until you have spoken with one.

If you post bail, you could also get out of jail sooner, but you must understand the bail process and be able to afford it. 

Last but not least, you have rights while in jail, and if they are violated, you may have grounds for a lawsuit.

How Long Can the FBI Hold You Without Charging You?

If a court orders a search warrant for a suspect or a grand jury has returned a verdict indicting the suspect, federal agents can arrest the suspect and place them under arrest until court proceedings begin.  

Suppose there is no indictment or arrest warrant. In that case, the arresting agents should take the suspect to a judge, who then determines whether there is probable cause to think the arrestee committed a felony. 

This initial appearance usually happens as soon as practicable following the arrest and must begin before 72 hours have passed. 

At the initial appearance, the court advises the arrestee of the charges and tells them about their right to counsel and to remain silent. 

Sometimes, the defendant gets released right after the initial appearance. 

But in other cases, the prosecutor may request that the accused be held in custody until the trial concludes because the accused is potentially dangerous to the community.

How Long Can You Be Held in Jail Before You’re Arraigned?

An arraignment formally begins the criminal case. In most cases, you can remain in jail for up to 72 hours before arraignment.

What Happens During an Arraignment?

Arraignment officially notifies the defendant of the charges and gives them a copy of the legal documents. The defendant then pleads to the charges, typically not guilty or guilty. 

Suppose the defendant and the defense attorney have already discussed the charges with the prosecutor and negotiated a plea bargain. In that case, they may plead guilty at the arraignment as part of the plea bargain.

Do You Have the Right to an Attorney When You Are Arraigned?

As indicated above, the arresting officers should ask the defendant if they have an attorney. 

If they do not, the court can appoint them a lawyer. Either way, the judge will inform the defendant of necessary trial rights before proceeding.

What Happens if You Plead Guilty Plea at Your Arraignment?

Pleading guilty essentially lets the judge sentence the defendant on the spot. The defendant may plead guilty after the sentence negotiation with the prosecutor.

How Much Jail Time Can The Bench Warrant Carry for a Criminal Defendant?

If you face a criminal charge, a bench warrant can detain you until your trial ends. You could stay in jail if convicted for the original offense that led to the warrant.

Bench warrants do not carry any jail time. Judges usually issue bench warrants for the following situations:

  • Contempt of court
  • Failure to appear (FTA)

What About Non-defendants?

Judges can also issue bench warrants to people not facing criminal charges

Bench warrants can also affect people who are not currently facing criminal charges. Here are some examples of where this situation applies:

  • Probation violations
  • Violation of court orders, such as a restraining order
  • Refusing to testify despite a subpoena

How Do Bench Warrants Work?

Again, judges impose bench warrants. They tell the local law enforcement officers to find you and bring you to the court.

What Is Failure to Appear (FTA)?

Failure to appear is the crime of intentionally not attending required court dates with the criminal justice system. If you receive an FTA charge, you will still have to deal with your existing criminal charges

What Are Your Legal Rights While You’re in Jail, and What Can You Do if They’re Violated?

Arrested individuals, especially first-time arrestees, are usually unsure of their legal rights. 

You should remember the Miranda rights: the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney present during interrogations. 

You can file a lawsuit if your rights are denied while in jail. However, it’s crucial to consult an attorney to determine whether your rights have actually been violated and if you have a case.

The Right to a Speedy Trial: The Constitution and State Time Limits

The Speedy Trial Act of 1974 guarantees the right to prompt trial for defendants.

The Act establishes time limits governing criminal prosecution. For example, the information or indictment must be submitted within 30 days from the arrest or summons date. 

Being tried involves the prosecutor reviewing the crime and its details and deciding whether to pursue a criminal case. The case could go to trial, get dismissed later, or be settled through a plea agreement that the judge approves.

The Right to a Speedy Trial: State Time Limits

Although arrestees cannot be detained without formal charges for an unreasonable amount of time, the Constitution does not specify the appropriate timeframe. The states typically set the time limit.

As indicated above, if you’re in police custody, your “speedy trial” rights require the prosecution to determine your charges within 72 hours.

Violation of the Speedy Trial Right: Remedies

The “writ of habeas corpus” authorizes law enforcement to bring you before the court. Afterward, a judge decides whether a correctional facility is legally detaining you.

You should seek help from a reputable law firm regarding this scenario and other legal procedures. Some legal clinics have public defenders who give free consultations if you cannot afford a private lawyer.

Getting Out of Jail

Posting bail is the only court-sanctioned way for many detainees to stay out of jail while awaiting trial. However, other options exist for those already serving jail time

For instance, judges set the length and location of a sentence. They also determine whether inmates have work release privileges.

Meanwhile, jail operators, such as sheriffs, determine how the offender will serve the jail sentence

More specifically, a sheriff decides whether the individual serves all or part of the sentence inside the county jail

A sheriff can allow an offender to serve a portion of their sentence through home detention. 

House arrest or home detention confines a person to their home rather than a corrections facility. The procedure typically involves electronic monitoring. 

Raise Funds

You can raise funds using crowdfunding platforms and seek financial assistance from charity organizations and people you know.

These activities aren’t easy since they require vulnerability, but they are effective ways to raise funds for bail payments. 

Don’t worry. You will have your money back if you attend all your court appointments. 

 You can post bail anytime during court proceedings, so it’s fine if you need more time to raise the funds.

Provide Collateral

Some courts allow you to offer collateral in lieu of cash, such as the title to a car or the deed to a house. You can have your defense lawyer request the judge to allow this arrangement.

Many times, the total amount of collateral you offer should exceed the bail. But, again, as long as you attend your court dates, you aren’t actually risking anything. 

The court will not seize your assets if you comply with the bail terms.

Work With a Bondsman

Bail bond agents offer to put up the money to get you out of jail. They charge you a fee, usually less than the bail amount.

Bond agents can often get you the most speedy release from jail because they understand the system well and know the best way to proceed. 

Therefore, working with a bond agent can be an excellent way to secure bail. That said, check first if you can afford the bail. Bond fees may be expensive for some people. Consider other options if you cannot afford to pay for it.

How Does the Bail Process Work, and How Can You Get Out of Jail Sooner Rather Than Later?

Arrested people can get out of jail before their trial begins by posting bail. Bail is a court-assigned amount defendants must pay to assure the court that they will attend appointments as ordered.

If the individual cannot pay bail, they may remain in jail until the trial starts. 

Can You Get Released From Jail Early for Good Behavior, and, if So, How?

A judicial system can shorten a court-imposed sentence based on “good time.” 

When inmates demonstrate good behavior, they earn good time credit, cutting their actual time in custody. Their exemplary conduct points accumulate annually and can be used to expedite their release from jail.

In good-time programs, inmates generally receive an automatic sentence reduction. The deduction depends on how many days the prison or jail staff does not write them up for infractions. 

Inmates can earn good time credits by volunteering for community service projects, training programs, or medical research. 

The law sets the amount of reduction that can equal a specific portion of the sentence, such as one-quarter. 

What Is the Maximum Amount of Time You Can Spend in Jail for a Crime?

Various factors impact the maximum length of time someone spends in county jail

For instance, the reason law enforcement arrested an illegal immigrant is crucial in determining how long they should stay in local county jails

That said, county jails usually detain inmates serving a sentence of less than one year. 

The Maximum or Longest Jail Stay if Bail Cannot Be Paid

Suppose the judge permits posting bail, but the defendant cannot pay the court-mandated amount. In that case, the defendant usually remains in jail until the judge orders their release.

Consequently, there’s a good chance the charged individual’s jail confinement will last until the first day of your court trial.

However, a judge or magistrate may release defendants on their own accord (without payment of money), provided these defendants attend all hearings and trials.

This exception usually applies to individuals with a steady job, strong community ties, or other factors that suggest they will not run away.

What Is the Longest You Can Stay in County Jail?

For severe cases, a person may receive a life sentence. This verdict means that the individual’s crime was so grave that no minimum term was set, and their conviction will probably never be overturned.

Do First-Time Offenders Go to Jail in the U.S.?

These people might go to any U.S. jail due to a felony charge or misdemeanor.

Depending on one’s specific charges, one may not face prison, jail, fines, or other penalties if convicted.

How Do You Stay Away From Jail?

Serving jail or prison time is the last thing any freedom-loving, law-abiding citizen would want to experience.

The best way to avoid jail is not to commit any crime. That said, even if you’ve been found guilty of a particular offense, a good lawyer can argue on your behalf for alternatives to jail.

For example, depending on the nature of one’s offense, one can do the following instead of serving jail time:

  • Pay a set amount of fine 
  • Serve on probation
  • Participate in several hours of community service

The sooner you consult with your criminal defense lawyer regarding non-jail options post-conviction, the more likely you will get your sentence shortened or dismissed.

Can You Solve This on Your Own, or Do You Need an Attorney?

Winning a criminal case involving complex legal issues requires a competent lawyer. Experienced defense attorneys can help protect your rights and ensure you’ve got a viable strategy for arguing your case.

 It will help your case if you seek tailored advice and ask your questions to a legal expert. 

The attorney-client relationship ensures the confidentiality of your discussions.

Get a Handle on Your Criminal Charges: Call an Attorney Today

Even if you’re still unconvicted, arrests usually have heavy legal implications, so seeking legal advice is essential to protect your freedom. 

Suppose you’re still unsure how long law enforcement officers can detain you without criminal charges. In that case, consulting an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible is best.


1. Jail Inmates in 2021 – Statistical Tables
2. County Sentence Walk Through
3. A Brief Description of the Federal Criminal Justice Process
4. How Long Can You Be Held In Jail Before You’re Arraigned?
5. What Are Your Miranda Rights?
6. 628. SPEEDY TRIAL ACT OF 1974
7. Sentences to Jail or Prison
8. Overview of Jail Classification in the United States
9. How Courts Work

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