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When Do the Police Decide to Stop Investigating a Crime?

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If you have been arrested or interviewed by the police but are still yet to be charged or released, you may wonder how long it will take for a decision to be made regarding the outcome of your case.

Waiting for your case to be decided can be very stressful, as both your personal and work lives will be heavily disrupted. This is especially true if you have no indication whether or not you are likely to be prosecuted or not.

The reality is that police investigations can be very complex, with plenty of moving parts, which means that plenty of steps need to be taken before a final decision is made regarding your situation.

Here, we discuss what police investigations often involve, which factors determine whether an investigation stays open, how long a case can stay open and whether it can be reopened in the future.

How does a police investigation work?

The primary purpose of a police investigation is to gather evidence, determine whether a crime has been committed, and identify the individual(s) responsible. The evidence gathered in a police investigation will be used to support a criminal prosecution.

A large part of the process involves collating various different types of evidence. This may include gathering forensic evidence from a crime scene, such as footprints and DNA, taking witness statements and collecting electronic information from devices that have been seized.

The police will always interview anyone who is suspected of a crime. Depending on the circumstances of the case, the interview may take place prior to an arrest (a voluntary interview) or after the suspect has been arrested.

If arrested, a custody officer will authorise a suspect’s detention for the purpose of questioning in a recorded interview. Fingerprints and a sample of DNA will also be taken. In the majority of cases, the police can detain someone without charge for 24 hours, but this can be extended to 36 or 96 hours if they’re suspected of a serious crime.

Once a police investigation has been completed, including interviews, the police have to decide whether to charge the suspect. If a suspect is charged, they will either be released on bail or kept in police custody until they can be brought before the court (possibly on the day they are charged or more usually the next day the court is sitting). If they are not charged, they will be released.

If a suspect is not charged but the investigation has not concluded, they can either be released on pre-charge bail or released under investigation.

When do the police stop investigating a crime?

There are a number of reasons why the police may choose to stop investigating a crime and release a suspect. This could be because:

  • There is a distinct lack of evidence tying the suspect to the crime
  • It cannot be proven that the crime took place
  • Procedural mistakes were made by the police or any other relevant authority
  • Evidence was gathered illegally
  • The offence is minor and/or it is the suspect’s first offence

How long do police investigations last?

Generally speaking, there is no time limit for how long a police investigation can stay open in England and Wales. That being said, there are certain restrictions which you should be aware of.

For summary only offences, which are heard in the Magistrates’ Court, the person must be charged within six months of the alleged crime. If the police decide to commence a prosecution by way of a requisition, (not charging a person at the police station but issuing a requisition requiring the person to attend court), that requisition must be authorised within six months of the alleged crime.

There are some exceptions to this general requirement. For some offences the time runs only when the offence is “discovered” by the prosecutor, which means when there was a reasonable belief that an offence had been committed.  On the other hand, for indictable offences, there is no time limit in place.

In recent years, there have also been significant changes to the rules on pre-charge bail. These changes were made through the Policing and Crime Act 2017. The changes restricted the police’s rights to release subjects on bail before they have been charged with an offence.

These changes were brought in due to concerns regarding the overuse of pre-charge bail for long periods by the police, which was restricting the civil liberties of suspects.

The changes to the law on pre-charge bail mean that:

  • Bail can only be authorised by an officer of the rank inspector or above
  • The custody officer must be satisfied that releasing the suspect on bail is both necessary and proportionate
  • The suspect can be initially bailed for up to 28 days. The exception to this is serious fraud cases, where initial bail can be for up to 3 months

These changes have resulted in a dramatic decrease in the use of pre-charge bail. However, more suspects are now being released under investigation, meaning the case will technically still be ongoing.

How long can you be ‘released under investigation’ for?

Unfortunately, being released under investigation does not come with a set time limit for when you can be notified of any consequences. This means that until it has been confirmed that your case has been dropped altogether, the investigation could be resumed at any time.

In our experience, for routine or less serious cases, you can expect to hear from the police within two to three months, but in more complicated cases, where the police need to obtain various statements, forensic evidence, CCTV or expert reports, this could take several additional months.

Put simply, the time you can be released under investigation for will usually depend on the severity of the crime and how the police are managing their caseload and internal deadlines.

How can I get the police to drop charges against me?

Depending on your individual circumstances the police may not necessarily charge you. They may elect to drop potential charges. They may decide to refer to the Crown Prosecution Service before any charging decision is made.

What factors could persuade the police not to charge you?

The police may elect not to charge you for a number of reasons. The first may be that there is simply insufficient evidence. Where this is the case, we can make representations to the police and, where appropriate, we could make procedural requirements when you were arrested.

It is also important to note that, when the police arrest you, they are legally obligated to provide you with certain information and comply with the provisions of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. Failing to do so may have made an arrest unlawful.

If the offence you have allegedly committed is considered minor, e.g. stealing from a shop or causing low value criminal damage, and it is your first offence, the police may decide not to charge you. Instead, they may issue a caution. A caution is not a criminal conviction, but you should still be aware that it will be recorded on the Police National Computer and could be referred to if you subsequently appear at court in relation to another offence.

For the police to issue a caution, you must admit to the offence. In certain situations, the police may also offer a conditional caution, which may, for example include paying compensation if you have damaged someone else’s property. The police could also resort to a community resolution.

If you find yourself in such a position, it is essential that you still enlist the correct legal advice. This could potentially mean the difference between being charged by the police and having a criminal record.

Even if you are charged by the police there is still plenty that can be done before the matter heads to court.

In some instances, representations can be made to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

There are numerous factors that can be put forward to support a request to drop a charge. However, the CPS would need compelling reasons to drop a charge. Examples that could be accepted include that there is insufficient evidence to continue a prosecution or that to continue a prosecution would have a serious detrimental effect on a person’s health.

There are numerous other possible reasons for making representations to the CPS that would depend on a number of factors e.g. a caution is more suitable or that a person has made restoration where property has been damaged. It is therefore essential that expert legal advice is sought to possibly prevent a person receiving a criminal conviction and avoiding the potentially damaging consequences that flow from such a conviction.

How do you know when a police investigation is closed?

If you have been released on pre-bail charge or released under investigation, the police should notify you if they make the decision to close the investigation. In many instances, they will use the term ‘no further action’ (NFA) to describe their decision not to proceed any further with the case.

If you have not heard anything from the police and you are concerned about the status of the investigation, you contact them to make further enquiries.

If you do not feel comfortable contacting the police officers who are involved with investigating your case, then you can also submit a ‘subject access request’ to the police. A subject access request is an application to see all of the information held about you by the police force. The record should show you if the investigation has been closed.

If the investigation is on going, information will be withheld from your subject access request, as the police are not obliged to release any information related to a live investigation.

Should you enlist legal representation during a police investigation?

No matter what your circumstances may be and what crime you have been accused of committing, it is absolutely essential that you enlist expert legal representation as soon as possible.

Whether you have been invited to attend the police station on a voluntary basis or you have been arrested, you are entitled to receive free independent legal advice and representation from a qualified police station representative.

The police may offer you the option of working with a duty solicitor. However, you do not have to use them, and you can instead work with a criminal defence solicitor of your choosing. While some duty solicitors can offer sound advice, they may lack the sufficient expertise and experience required to provide effective representation.

An experienced criminal defence solicitor can provide carefully tailored legal advice, using their specific knowledge of various legal matters to ensure your rights are upheld. Working with a criminal defence solicitor can also help to increase your chances of a police investigation being resolved much sooner than may have otherwise been possible.

Contrary to what many people initially believe, seeking out legal advice and representation is not an admission of guilt.

Get immediate specialist legal advice about police investigations

If you’re under investigation by the police and you have any concerns about the outcome of your case or what may happen next, our criminal defence solicitors are on hand to lend their expertise and talk you through your available options.

Our expert knowledge and vast experience of the criminal justice system means that you can be confident knowing that your case is in the most dedicated and experienced hands. We will provide clear advice in plain English along with sympathetic personal support to help you through this difficult time.

We can offer police station representation for a wide range of offences, from very minor such as drunken incidents, theft, damage to the most serious of cases such as rape, assault GBH, Murder, Fraud and all levels of sexual offences, including indecent images allegations. We are one of the busiest and well known criminal police station solicitors firms.

You can contact us 24-hours a day, seven days a week for an immediate free initial consultation, expert legal advice and representation.

Our highly experienced criminal defence lawyers offer:

  • 24/7 legal support in person and over the phone, 365 days a year
  • Representation anywhere in England or Wales
  • Accredited Police Station Representatives to support you during a police interview
  • Clear, effective legal advice in any language (see our languages spoken)
  • Local offices in LondonBirmingham or Manchester

If you need immediate advice and representation, please use our emergency contact numbers:

Birmingham – 07891 777090
Brent & Camden – 07836 577556
Manchester – 07798 701339