On the day William Haymon turned 16, it was his 511th day in jail in Mississippi and a prosecutor had yet to formally charge him with a crime. William is one of thousands of people across the country arrested and jailed for weeks, months, and even years without charges. In one year in New Orleans, 275 people each spent an average of 115 days in jail only to have the prosecution decline all charges against them. Together, these men and women spent 31,625 days in one of the nation’s most dangerous jails, with no compensation for their incarceration, fear, lost wages, shame and distress. Yet this violates no laws; it circumvents no constitutional protections.
To date, there has been no study of the necessity of the extended time period between arrest and charging. Until a prosecutor decides to accept or decline charges, the arrestee is in a procedural abyss. In this Article, we explore the equities at stake and the realities at play in this dark period. State statutes give prosecutors extended or indefinite time periods to make the formal charging
decision and prosecutors appear to take that time.
A recent original study reveals that prosecutors’ crushing caseloads, shoddy and inadequate investigative work by police officers, and a lack of training or written policies on charging contribute to the delay. From the detained defendants’ perspective, the consequences of delayed charging are
steep. Extended time in jail risks lives, health, jobs and case outcomes. Yet we explain how neither the constitutional protections granted to criminal defendants nor statutory provisions provide any remedy at this uncharged stage. After exposing this disturbing state of affairs, we offer practical, subconstitutional solutions to minimize needless delay in the charging decisions of prosecutors across the country.