| Read Time: 4 minutes | Drug Crimes
when do police have to file drug charges

If you get arrested for drug charges, you may wonder, How long does it take for the police to file charges for a drug offense? This question breaks down into two separate questions: 

  • How much time do the police have after arresting a suspect to charge them or let them out of jail?
  • How long after a crime do the police have to file charges before the statute of limitations deadline expires?

Police and prosecutors do not have all the time in the world to decide whether or not they will charge you with a crime. The idea is that, as a citizen, you should not have to spend an extraordinary amount of time with potential charges looming over your head. Both the Colorado state government and the federal government limit the time the police and the prosecutor have to charge someone with any crime—including drug charges.

The Colorado Criminal Justice Statute of Limitations

The Colorado criminal statute of limitations dictates how long before the prosecutor must file charges or be forever barred from pursuing prosecution. These deadlines are: 

  • Three years for felonies;
  • 18 months for misdemeanors; and
  • Six months for petty offenses.

The foregoing deadlines are subject to certain exceptions.

After the Police Arrest You

After the police arrest you, another clock starts ticking. At the time of your arrest, many people think that the police file drug charges in the charging affidavit. Although the police will list charges on the arrest document, those are not official charges. Instead, the prosecutor reviews your case and decides whether to officially file charges. In most cases, if you are being held in jail, the prosecutor has three business days after your arrest to file charges, or they must release you from custody. 

However, this only applies to the State’s ability to keep you locked up if they have not yet filed charges. Let’s look at an example.


Suppose that Joe was arrested on August 10th for possession of heroin. If the prosecutor reviews the case and files charges before August 13th, Joe can be held in jail until the case resolves. Now, Joe will likely have bail set so that he can bond out of jail pending the resolution of his case. But if for some reason Joe cannot post bond, then he will remain in jail until his case resolves either through dismissal, plea, or trial.

Now suppose that drug charges are filed in the arrest affidavit, but the prosecutor fails to file official charges by August 13th. Then, the jail must release Joe from custody. Joe cannot be forced to sit in jail for months while the prosecution decides if it wants to file charges. So in this situation, he will be released. However, Joe should know that the prosecutor can still file charges later. If they gather enough evidence to justify charges down the road, they can file and pick the case back up. But the time they have to make a charging decision is limited by the aforementioned statute of limitations. 

Why the Police Might Delay Arresting You

The police might delay arresting you for months or even years for various law enforcement reasons. Some of the most common reasons are listed below. 

Insufficient Evidence

One of the reasons the police might delay arresting you is that they have insufficient evidence. The law requires the weight of the evidence to meet only the lower “probable cause” standard of evidence to justify an arrest. However, to convict you, the prosecution needs enough evidence to meet the much higher “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard. 

The double jeopardy dilemma

Law enforcement knows that prematurely arresting you is a mistake. Your arrest and the filing of charges trigger your right to a speedy trial, and that limits the amount of time the State has to resolve your case. If they file charges before having enough evidence to convict, you can assert your right to a speedy trial. This forces the State to go to trial only with the evidence they have. If that is not enough for a conviction you’ll likely be acquitted, and the constitutional principle of “double jeopardy” will apply. If it does, the State will be legally barred from ever prosecuting you for the same crime again.

Late-breaking evidence

Rather than risk double jeopardy attaching, police often consider it wiser to wait and gather more evidence. They might obtain enough evidence to convict you, for example, only after they procure a confession from a third party willing to testify against you.

Reluctance to Compromise an Ongoing Investigation

Suppose the police arrange a “sting” drug transaction where an undercover officer buys drugs from a suspect. The police may or may not arrest the suspect right away. They might use smaller transactions to build trust for a large buy that will ultimately result in a “big bust.” 

Alternatively, the police might delay arresting a retailer while they use the transactions to ascertain the identity of the wholesaler—or the “bigger fish,” as some might say. Once they succeed, they might arrest the wholesaler and the retailer on the same day. 

Don’t Give Up. We Can Help You Fight the System!

If you get arrested for drug charges, the lawyers at Gerash Steiner & Blanton, P.C., have got you covered. Our criminal charges defense attorney, Daniel Gerash, has over 20 years of criminal defense experience. In the thousands of cases he has handled over the years, he has seen it all. He knows how the prosecution works and how to leverage the system to your benefit. Mr. Gerash is a powerful presence in the courtroom, and he knows how to get you the best possible outcome for your case. When charged with a crime, there is a lot at stake. So don’t take any chances with your future. Let us help. We are ready to confront the criminal justice system on your behalf. Contact us online to schedule a free consultation.

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At Gerash Steiner Blanton P.C., we pride ourselves on providing exceptional legal services to every one of our clients. Our team of experienced attorneys is dedicated to representing individuals and businesses in a wide range of legal matters. We understand that every case is unique and will always provide personalized solutions to meet your immediate legal needs.

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