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How Long Can Police Investigate You?

How Long Can Police Investigate You?

How long can the police investigate you?

Police investigations can feel like they take a long time. You might learn about an investigation when a police report is filed against you, after a search warrant, or when an investigator comes to talk to you. There is a lot of activity at first.

If you do what smart people do at this stage you hire a lawyer. You gear up to enforce your rights. And then you wait.

How long can this go on?

You can feel like your entire life is on hold at this point. It very well might be. A criminal investigation can make it hard to move on with employment, family decisions, vacations, and everything. And worst of all is that you are waiting on bad news. Many times law enforcement won’t actually tell you, or your lawyer, when the investigation is over. You don’t know when, or if, the decision has been made to drop the case.

How Long Does a Police Investigation Take?

In South Carolina, there are no time limits on criminal investigations. This is because there is no time limit on when the police can charge or arrest you for a criminal offense. Stole a candy bar in 1987? Technically you could be arrested for that today.

Time-Limit on South Carolina Investigations

Now while there is no time limit on how long the investigation can take, there are some general guidelines we can share.

For misdemeanor offenses, you are almost always going to see an arrest made, if at all, within the first month or so.

Simple cases, even major felonies, also don’t normally take more time than that.

Complex cases, such as embezzlement or anything requiring specialized or in-depth investigation can take longer.

Child molestation cases in which the alleged victim needs a forensic interview can take several weeks so that those interviews can be scheduled.

There is one major exception to the no-time limit rule. Pursuant to S.C. Code § 16-3-5 you can’t be prosecuted for murder if there is a delay of more than three years between causing injury and the death. For example, if you shoot someone and they live for a year in the hospital on life-support before dying you can be charged with murder. If they live for four years then you can’t be charged with murder.

Many times the final step in the investigation is when the police reach out to the accused. This is because they often have evaluated the other statements and evidence first so that they can conduct the best interview possible. Many people are surprised to be contacted by an investigator, and at the first meeting will “open up” and talk. Shortly after they realize that they need a lawyer and stop being so cooperative. So the first interaction after contact with law enforcement is really a golden opportunity police don’t like to go to waste. So just because the police reached out to you today, doesn’t mean that the investigation hasn’t already been going on for several weeks or more.

What about federal investigations?

There are limitations on when you can be charged with a federal offense. Most of the time, the limit is five years from the date of the offense. If you haven’t been formally charged after a five year period you are probably in the clear.

There are some exceptions for offenses like murder or treason, and some exceptions are made for other specific offenses. But the general rule is that if charges are to be brought, they must be within a five year time-frame.

When Do Police Stop Investigating

Law enforcement almost never announces when they have closed a case or determined that someone is no longer a suspect. There can be some exceptions, and we do have examples of police investigators telling us when it’s over, but this is not the general rule.

A lawyer who has been involved in lots of investigations before is usually in a good position to tell you how long it normally is before an arrest has been made in other, similar, cases.

Our advice is that even when you think you are “in the clear” you continue to remain silent and not discuss the case with anyone. If the police didn’t have enough evidence to charge you originally, then anything you say to anyone else could be used later to justify an arrest. Even if that’s years down the road.


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