Person A commits an offence on January 1st. The police force have everything they need to charge person A within a few days.

Assuming there is no more evidence they can possibly obtain, would they hold off on pressing charges? say, for three or more years.

Surely they would want to move forward as soon as possible? since memories, data and other evidence may degrade (service providers are only bound to keep message records for 12 months ).

I have never heard of this happening, it seems like as soon as they have enough to charge they go right ahead. This seems the correct course of action in terms of the alleged victims of the crime "getting it over and done with".

This is fundamentally different to someone holding off from pressing charges (i.e the many victims of Jimmy Savile).


  • Hate Crime: I can not think why there would be delays on a Hate Crime charge. Once there is sufficient evidence to lay charges in this case, then why would a police force hold off on charging?
  • Same confusion holds with offences such as harassment, distribution indecent images and plotting to commit a terrorist activity.
  • Since there's a UK tag: the police don't make that decision, the CPS do. I'm not sure whether that affects your question. Commented Jun 21, 2017 at 17:30
  • With regards to the UK, this question should be reworded as "Why would the CPS hold off on charging someone?" It does affect my question, but I think some of the reasons given below would answer the reworded question. Could you think of any other reasons why the CPS would hold off on charging someone, assuming that the police are ready to proceed?
    – user698
    Commented Jun 21, 2017 at 17:53

4 Answers 4


This isn't strictly a legal question, but there are many reasons that a police force might delay. These include, but are not limited to:

  • The case is a low priority so resources are devoted elsewhere, and no one ever gets back around to dealing with it.

  • The case may implicate another ongoing undercover operation which the arrest would disrupt.

  • It is likely that if the police wait that they will be able to bring much more serious charges, when the conduct they have evidence for is not as serious if they wait and monitor the suspect for future criminal conduct or leads to more serious past conduct. For example, the police may only have evidence of a single incident of harassment but may think that if they wait and watch that they may get evidence of extortion or attempted murder.

  • There is a concern that prosecuting immediately would lead to community uproar that would undermine community safety or impair police operations generally. In the same vein, public opinion might produce a tainted or unfavorable jury if charges were pressed now, but the jury might be less likely to have pre-existing opinions or to consider the case a hot button issue once publicity around an incident has died off.

  • The police may intentionally be exercising discretion not to press charges because it seems unjust to do so, or the perpetrator had some justification, or otherwise deserves a second chance.

  • Pre-charge negotiations might be ongoing between prosecutors and defense counsel.

  • The perpetrator already faces more serious charges that are highly likely to result in his incarceration and the new charges would be served concurrently and not add to his sentence, so pressing charges is not a priority.

  • There are doubts about the sufficiency of the evidence or there is a belief that more evidence may be obtained soon (and nobody bothers to check back and try to press the case when that potential lead doesn't pan out).

  • A modest delay in pressing charges for any number of reasons causes a witness to become unavailable or evidence to be lost.

Generally speaking, law enforcement has wide discretion to decide which cases to focus on and try to have prosecuted, and which cases the leave be. No law enforcement agency has the resources to prosecute (with prosecuting attorney assistance) every possible case that they could prove.

  • You are correct, this is not a legal question, sorry about that. Thanks for your answer also. Would it be likely that these delays could last as much as 4, 5... years?! Surely there would be some electronic system or something...
    – user698
    Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 20:26
  • 2
    No idea. Law enforcement is profoundly more centralized in the U.K. than it is in the United States where the vast majority of law enforcement resources managed by locally elected municipal, township, town and county governments independent of central authorities with only minimal coordination and little uniformity. Centralization can mean better systems but also more red tape.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jun 21, 2017 at 0:52
  • "Pre-charge negotiations" implies plea bargaining, which is of course illegal in this jurisdiction. Commented Jun 25, 2017 at 9:10
  • 1
    @TimLymington Pre-charge negotiations could cover all manner of things in addition to plea bargaining. For example, negotiations over whether a defendant would surrender himself to authorities in a manner that would avoid an ugly, unexpected public arrest, or negotiations of a foreign defendant who might surrender himself to UK authorities in exchange for an agreement not to extradite to, e.g., the United States which has the death penalty or some other country where more serious charges are pending.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 16:00

There is another possible aspect, related to the difference between the police and the CPS (or DA's office in America). It is not uncommon for the police to be satisfied that the suspect is guilty, and for there to be enough evidence to lay charges, when a lawyer knows there is little chance of a conviction, either for good reasons (some of the evidence will be inadmissible) or bad ones (local juries are notoriously sympathetic to this crime). After an acquittal there is no chance of a retrial even if further evidence turns up, whereas delaying in the hope of further untainted evidence turning up or public sentiment changing is always an option, particularly since Britain has no criminal Statute of Limitations.

  • I see. If eventually the case does go ahead the prosecution would have to explain to the judge why such a delay occurred? Would there be a further possibility of it being thrown out if the delay was not properly justified?
    – user698
    Commented Jun 21, 2017 at 20:25
  • 1
    This is happens in the United States as well, especially when the law enforcement officers are less elite (small town cops rather than, for example, big city homicide detectives or FBI agents). In practice, prosecutors are a much bigger check on weak prosecutions suggested by law enforcement than either grand juries or preliminary hearings, but this isn't widely known as these interactions are nearly invisible to the public and often aren't mentioned in police procedural crime dramas.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 0:08
  • 1
    @HMPARTICLE: Laying charges only when there is evidence to back them up is more responsible (and approved of by judges) than accusing somebody to satisfy the police or media and then constantly asking for adjournments because you can't support the charges. You do,. of course, have to accept that delay causes problems, as in your question; that is why the decision when and whether to charge is left to a professional prosecutor. Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 8:04

In some cases the police may use the practice of keeping people on bail without charge as a tactic to disrupt activities the subject is involved in, such as protests that are inconvenient to the police. As the Legal Defence and Monitoring group put it:

The cops like keeping people on bail because it’s a punishment in itself, especially if there are conditions attached, while the CPS get paid however long it takes. This leads to people being on bail for months and even years with disruption to their lives and ongoing psychological pressures.

  • 1
    Thanks for the reply. I was more concerned with the potential length of the period of time between the police having sufficient evidence to make an arrest and actually making an arrest. Bail conditions etc are dealt with after the arrest I think. It seems to be "not a thing" to wait around in the UK (with regards to making an arrest) unless there is something more serious going on (drug barons etc).
    – user698
    Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 20:52
  • 1
    Indeed, this is about delay between initial arrest and charge.
    – bdsl
    Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 21:07

Well, first off you need to realize that the police are incapable of laying charges. The police are an investigation and public service organization, not involved with prosecution.

Charges are laid by the DA’s office, not the police. A totally separate organization.

So, why would DA’s office delay? The first and most obvious reason is that they are unconvinced by the polices evidence. The police believe they have sufficient evidence that someone is guilty, the DA disagrees. Secondly, they could be worried about getting a conviction, the police are concerned with finding sufficient evidence of guilt, the DA has to worry about the judge and jury.

Finally they could be abusing the system.

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