How Long Can A Felony Charge Be Pending?

Receiving a felony charge can be a stressful and uncertain time in one’s life. While anyone in this situation likely wants resolution as soon as possible, the time a felony charge remains pending varies considerably. 

The process from arrest to conviction or dismissal involves many steps, and several factors impact how quickly a felony case proceeds. However, those facing a pending felony charge can take proactive steps to move their case forward. 

Being patient yet persistent when working with one’s defense attorney is key. Furthermore, understanding the process provides the knowledge needed to advocate for oneself. With the right legal guidance and personal initiative, the waiting period for a felony case resolution can be shortened. Ultimately, taking control where possible helps make this difficult time more manageable.

How Long Can A Felony Charge Be Pending

So in this post, as an Attorney At Law and with years of personal experience, I will guide you on how long can a felony charge be pending and what you should do.

Takeaway of this article:

  • Overview of what a felony charge is and its seriousness.
  • Factors that define a felony charge, including potential sentences, formal accusations, arraignment, trials, and impact on rights.
  • Explanations of how long a felony charge can be pending and the various factors affecting the timeline.
  • Information on traveling out of the country with pending felony charges and the restrictions imposed.
  • Details on crimes with the longest statute of limitations, including examples like murder, rape, kidnapping, financial crimes, and child abuse.
  • Conclusion emphasizing the importance of understanding the criminal justice system and being proactive when facing pending felony charges.

What is a Felony Charge?

A felony charge is a formal criminal accusation made against someone for committing a serious crime. Felonies are the most serious type of crime, distinguished from misdemeanors which are lesser offenses.

There are several key aspects that define a felony charge:

  • Seriousness: Felonies involve more egregious conduct and carry more severe penalties compared to misdemeanors. Felonies include crimes such as murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault.
  • Potential sentence: The maximum sentence for a felony conviction is typically more than 1 year of incarceration. Many felonies carry potential sentences of multiple years or even life in prison. Misdemeanors generally have a maximum sentence of 1 year or less.
  • Formal accusation: Felony charges originate from a grand jury indictment or criminal complaint filed by a prosecutor. This formal document outlines the specific crimes being alleged.
  • Arraignment: Defendants accused of felonies go through an arraignment hearing where charges are formally read and a plea is entered. This marks the official commencement of the legal proceedings.
  • Trial: Felony charges typically merit a full jury trial. Defendants have the right to have their guilt or innocence determined by a jury of their peers.
  • Impact on rights: A felony conviction results in the loss of certain rights and privileges, like voting, serving on a jury, and possessing firearms. The conviction remains on one’s criminal record permanently.

How Long Can A Felony Charge Be Pending?

There is no definite time frame for how long a felony charge can remain pending before it goes to trial or is resolved. The length of time really depends on the specific circumstances of each case and the jurisdiction it is in. However, some general guidelines are:

  • Most states have laws about “speedy trials” that require felons to go to trial within a certain number of months/days of the defendant being charged. For example, Florida rules stipulate felonies must go to trial within 175 days of arrest. Also, California has 3 years for felonies and one year for misdemeanors.
  • Prosecutors typically have up to a year or more to officially bring charges and file them with the court after making an arrest. This is the arrest-to-arraignment timeline. However, this varies by state. For instance, New York requires arraignment within 144 hours of arrest for felonies.
  • Continuances requested by either side can add months or even years to a case. Defendants sometimes need more time to prepare a defense or work on a plea deal. Prosecutors may need more time to build a case.
  • Complicated cases involving multiple defendants, witnesses, and evidence can result in lengthier timelines. Homicide cases and organized crime prosecutions tend to take longer.
  • The defense filing pretrial motions arguing to suppress evidence or dismiss the charges can cause delays as those motions get litigated.
  • Mobility between jurisdictions can prolong the process if a defendant faces charges in multiple counties or states. The proceedings must be coordinated.

While lengthy pending felony cases frustrate many, the consensus is that taking the time necessary to methodically prepare and ensure fair proceedings is vital, even if that means an accused felon waits in jail or on bail for an extended period. But defense lawyers can work to speed things up and assert the defendant’s right to a speedy trial if they believe delays become unreasonable.

Can You Travel Out of the Country with Pending Felony Charges?

Traveling outside of the country with pending felony charges is usually not allowed, but there may be some exceptions. Here are some key points on how pending felony charges impact international travel:

  • A defendant free on bail awaiting trial will typically have their passport revoked or surrendered as a condition of their release. This prevents international flight to avoid prosecution.
  • For those not yet charged but under felony investigation, leaving the country can still be restricted if prosecutors file a “hold” or detainer requesting customs officials stop the person from traveling abroad.
  • Even after serving jail time, parolees with pending felony charges often cannot get travel clearance to go overseas until their case concludes.
  • There may be rare exceptions if prosecutors and the court approve specific travel for a compelling reason. However, this usually involves a negotiated agreement to ensure the return and retain the defendant’s passport during travel.
  • Those with pending felonies who try to travel internationally without proper clearance face severe consequences. Customs officials routinely check for outstanding warrants and pending criminal cases.
  • If caught attempting unauthorized foreign travel with felony charges pending, a defendant could have their bail revoked and face additional criminal charges like obstruction of justice.

Overall, while not an absolute prohibition, those awaiting resolution of felony charges should not expect to be able to freely travel abroad. Consult an attorney if foreign travel is imperative while pending charges remain unresolved. But in most cases, staying put until the conclusion of the case is the only prudent choice.

What Crime Has the Longest Statute of Limitations?

There is no definitive crime that has the absolute longest statute of limitations across all jurisdictions. However, some of the most serious felonies often have no statute of limitations or very lengthy ones. Here are some examples of crimes with exceptionally long statutes of limitations:

  • Murder: Most states do not impose any statute of limitations for murder charges. Prosecutors can file murder charges anytime, no matter how long ago the crime occurred.
  • Rape: Many states have extended or eliminated the statute of limitations for rape in recent years. For example, California removed the statute of limitations for rape in 2020, allowing charges no matter the passage of time. [(Penal Code 799(b)(1)]
  • Kidnapping: When committed against minors, kidnapping often has lengthy statutes of limitations. In Florida, it’s 30 years from the victim’s 18th birthday.
  • Financial crimes: Some financial crimes like tax evasion have no statutes of limitations or limits of up to 10 years to allow time for discovery.
  • Child abuse: States are increasingly removing statutes of limitations for felony child abuse, or extending them. Alaska has no limit for Class A felonies against minors.

So while statutes of limitation vary, the trend is toward longer or no limitations for the most severe crimes. This reflects the gravity of offenses like murder, rape, and abuse of children. However, complex laws govern time limits for charges, so analyzing the specifics of each crime alleged is crucial.


Navigating the criminal justice system when facing pending felony charges can be confusing and worrisome. While the complex legal processes seem daunting, educating oneself on how the system works goes a long way. Understanding the factors impacting timelines, restrictions, and options helps take control where possible. 

Though the waiting and uncertainty are undoubtedly difficult, being proactive and working diligently with legal counsel can make all the difference. The insights provided here aim to shed light on this challenging situation. Thank you for taking the time to learn more about this important issue. Best of luck moving forward to those in this tough spot, stay strong.

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