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How Long Do Police Have to Charge You?

Six months.

Let me qualify that.

They have 6 months to apply for the summons in your case.

Six months to apply for the summons, not six months to serve the summons.

There’s a big difference.

And bear in mind: police don’t forget.

I’ll come back to that later.

BUT SIX MONTHS is the timeline.

But there’s exceptions here too.

If the offence is very serious (robbery, serious assault sexual offence) there is no six-month time limit.

In other words there is no Statute of Limitations for these kinds of cases.

But for almost all road traffic cases, the State have 6 months to issue a summons.

Within certain limits the State can serve a summons on you at any time after the date of the arrest.

Again, let me be specific.

An arrest could take place on 1 January and as long as the police apply for the summons before 31 May (i.e. 6 months later) they’re covered.

But that could mean that you may not receive the summons until 12 months after you were arrested.

Sometimes even longer.

The State are generally not bound by any time-limit in serving a summons on you.


Again, let me qualify that.

EVERYBODY HAS A RIGHT to have their case dealt with efficiently.

The legal term for this is “expeditiously”.

Expeditiously means quickly, without undue delay.

But if the delay is too long or too unreasonable that might be regarded as unfair.

If the State can give no reasonable explanation as to why it has taken them so long to prosecute you that may be a defence to the prosecution.

If the court agreed that the delay was unreasonable, unjustifiable or unfair, the case might be struck out.


Not will, might.

A delay in terms of time alone will usually not work.

In other words, just because the State have taken much longer to prosecute you than is usual in cases like yours, it doesn’t mean that the court will strike the case out.

Where the defence argument is based on delay, an inquiry is ordered by the court.


The Judge will want to know certain things.

Like what efforts were made to serve you?

What steps (if any) were taken to serve the summons on you?

If the summons was not served on you within a reasonable (the court decides what this is) period of time, why was this?

The police might say that their inquiries have revealed that they called to the address that you gave them when arrested but nobody answered the door when they knocked.

They might say (this is the trouble with rented accommodation) that when they called to serve the summons, they were told that you no longer lived there.

If things like this happen, your delay argument will likely go up in smoke.

DELAY ARGUMENTS DONT often succeed as courts are understandably very reluctant to strike out cases just because of the passage of time.

Significant persuasion is required and at least some of this should include the fact that further delay will involve a negative impact on a person’s mental health.

But a word of warning.

It’s not enough to say you’re ‘stressed’ or suffering from anxiety because the case has been “hanging over you” for so long.

Everyone is stressed or anxious at the prospect of court.

Something more is needed.

A letter from your doctor testifying to this is usually required.

That usually means that your doctor writes a medical report setting out that they have treated you in the past for anxiety, depression, stress etc.

Usually, but not always.

Sometimes a Judge will take the view, right there and then, that regardless of any potential mental health issues or excuses by the State, they’re striking out the case.

That’s what’s known as “judicial discretion”.

When it's applied in your favour, it's the best thing in the world.

But if they don’t strike the case out right away, other factors can be even more persuasive.

For instance, if the delay has meant that vital witnesses for your defence cannot be located or have died in the meantime, this might be something that would make the prosecution against you unfair.

Again, perspective is required here.

The number of times that something like this would have any relevance to a drink driving or road traffic case is rare.


I HAVE HEARD CLIENTS say that when they hadn’t heard from the police for 8 or 9 months after their arrest, they felt that the police had “forgotten about them”.

Yes, I know.

The brain’s capacity for self-delusion is relentlessly impressive.

Police never forget about drink driving cases.

Here’s why.

If Officer Smith arrests you for drink driving and you provide a specimen of blood or urine, Officer Smith is responsible for that specimen.

He’s in charge of its safety.

In other words, Officer Smith is responsible for making sure that that specimen is posted to the Medical Bureau of Road Safety (MBRS).

The MRBS analyse all specimens of blood or urine sent to them.

That’s a very big part of what the MBRS do.

But they also do other things, like preparing end-of-year reports.

These reports detail how many people were arrested for drink or drug driving that year, where the arrest took place, whether the arrested person was male or female, their age, what day of the week the arrest took place as well as the time of the day the arrest took place.

In other words, the MBRS prepare reports on a county-by-county basis to show whether the numbers from this year are higher or lower than last year.

As the MBRS is a government body it is -like every other government body – obsessed by numbers and statistics.

Numbers are everything and each arrested person’s details are recorded on their system.

This means the MBRS want to know what happens to each and every drink driving case across the country.

Was the person convicted or acquitted?


This is important to understand.

The MBRS want results from each case across the country where a specimen of blood or urine was analysed by them.

So, every year they write to the local Police station where an arrest for drink driving took place looking to know what happened with that case.

If the local Superintendent can’t tell them, alarm bells start to ring.

The surest reason why the Superintendent would not know the answer to that question is if Officer Smith (remember him?) never issued a summons for the drink driving case.

If they haven’t issued a summons within 6 months, the case is now statute barred.

The case is dead.

If that happens serious consequences are now triggered.

Those consequences are faced by Officer Smith, not the Superintendent.

An internal inquiry is now begun, and disciplinary sanctions will very likely result.

These sanctions include a monetary fine (multiple weeks pay) as well as an internal ‘blocking order’ on any future promotion prospects.

A suspension from duty is also possible.

Every police officer knows this.

They also know that if something goes wrong and questions get asked, Police Management will cast them adrift.

They’ll be facing the consequences alone.

Their superiors will not only not come to their aid, they’ll give every assistance to any outside agency investigating Officer Smith.

So, you can see that the chances of a police officer allowing a drink driving case of theirs to go “statute barred” are rare.

How rare?

About one in a thousand.

It almost never happens.

Because if Officer Smith wants to enjoy future career prospects within the force, he can forget about it if he lets his drink driving case go statute barred.

Do police forget?

Sometimes, but never for drink driving cases.


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