How Long Can an Inmate Be Held in Custody in Utah?

When most people imagine a jail or prison, they assume the inmates have already been convicted and are there to serve their sentences. However, many of the inmates who are housed at the Salt Lake County Jail have not been convicted, and are merely being held in custody while awaiting trial or other stages of the criminal process. So if an inmate hasn’t been found guilty, how long can they be held in custody? How is the criminal statute of limitations different? And what is a defendant’s right to a speedy trial? Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyer Darwin Overson explains the basics.

Prosecutors Must File Charges within 72 Hours

When an criminal suspect who has not been convicted is brought to the Salt Lake County Jail, the prosecutor handling the case has only 72 hours to decide whether he or she will file charges against the prisoner. If the prosecutor decides to file charges, a date will be schedule for the inmate’s arraignment, at which the judge formally notifies the defendant of the exact charges against him or her.

With a few exceptions, the inmate will generally be released from custody if the prosecutor fails to file charges within this short time period. However, while most inmates will be released after 72 hours have elapsed, there are also situations where the Salt Lake County Attorney’s Office can obtain a time extension. In extreme cases, these extensions may last as long as two weeks or longer. We have handled cases where the prosecutor obtained judicial extensions for 30 days and then sought a second extension.

For obvious reasons, these extensions are highly distressing to inmates and their loved ones. However, try not to get discouraged: in many cases, such extensions actually violate inmates’ Constitutional rights. A skilled Utah criminal defense lawyer may be able to challenge an unlawful time extension and obtain the inmate’s release from jail.

Don’t assume that the prosecutor is always in the right! Always call an attorney for assistance if you have any questions or concerns, no matter how minor.

Utah’s Criminal Statutes of Limitations

While inmates can typically secure release from the Salt Lake County Jail if the prosecutor does not file charges within three days, it’s also important to emphasize the distinction between this “72-hour rule” and the statute of limitations.

The statute of limitations refers to how long prosecutors have to file charges for an alleged crime. (In a civil context, the statute of limitations refers to how long the plaintiff has to file a claim.) Many crimes, such as assault, burglary, theft, and robbery, are subject to a two- to four-year statute of limitations. If the prosecutor fails to file charges within the relevant time frame, the suspect cannot be prosecuted.

However, certain felonies are so serious that no statute of limitations is applicable. In other words, the prosecutor could file charges even if a suspect committed the crime decades ago (assuming he or she had sufficient evidence). These crimes include, but are not limited to:

  • Aggravated Murder
  • Aggravated Sexual Assault
  • Child Kidnapping
  • Manslaughter
  • Murder
  • Rape

Your Constitutional Right to a Speedy Trial

Even if the prosecutor does file charges, the case may never go to trial. (In fact, the federal judiciary reports that “more than 90% of defendants plead guilty rather than go to trial.”) However, if the case does eventually proceed all the way to trial, there are limits to how long the trial may be delayed.

Your “right to a speedy trial” is provided by the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution, which states, “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed.”

Moreover, 18 U.S. Code § 3161(a) (Time Limits and Exclusions) provides that “in any case involving a defendant… the appropriate judicial officer, at the earliest practicable time, shall, after consultation with the counsel for the defendant and the attorney for the Government, set the case for trial on a day certain, or list it for trial on a weekly or other short-term trial calendar at a place within the judicial district, so as to assure a speedy trial.” (In simpler terms, the court must schedule a trial as soon as possible, after consulting with both the defense and the prosecution.)

But just how fast is “speedy”?

There is no clear-cut definition. However, the typical time period is 60 to 120 days, or about two to four months. The courts weigh four factors when determining whether the defendant’s right to a speedy trial has been violated:

  • How long the delay lasted.
  • The reasons for the delay.
  • Whether the delay caused any harm to the defendant (e.g. influencing the case to the defendant’s detriment).
  • Whether, and at which point, the defendant requested a speedy trial.

If your loved one is incarcerated at the Salt Lake County Jail and you’re concerned their Constitutional rights are being violated, the attorneys of Overson Law LLC may be able to help. To start discussing your situation in a free and completely confidential legal consultation, call our law offices right away at (801) 758-2287. We have more than 16 years of experience handling a wide variety of felony and misdemeanor charges in Utah.