• Roath Law

How Long Can You Be Held In Jail?

Contrary to what we see on TV, there is no time limit to how long you can be held in jail before your arraignment. Montana, thankfully, allows multiple bail reduction hearings, but most judges require a change in circumstances before they will consider a second argument. The time between arrest and arraignment, however, is often several weeks or more than a month. Montana felony cases begin in justice court, which does not have jurisdiction to handle felonies. The justice of the peace sets the initial bail amount, then, if the defendant can't afford bail, he is forced to wait in jail until his case is transferred to district court. This often takes several weeks. The process is frustratingly inefficient and cumbersome. A preliminary "hearing" is held at which the justice of the peace determines if there is probable cause for the charge (this is a calendared date but no appearance is ever made by any attorney or by the defendant). The preliminary hearing is usually at least one week after arrest. After the preliminary hearing, the case is transferred to district court. It can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks for the district court to arraign the defendant after the preliminary hearing. Only after arraignment in district court can the defendant argue for a reasonable bail. That hearing is usually a few days to a few weeks after arraignment. The result is that people who have yet to be arraigned and can't afford bail invariably sit in jail for at least a month before the charging process is even complete. That month can result in job loss, eviction, and even children being placed in foster care.

This article details how easy it is for people to fall through the cracks in such an inefficient system. The turnover in criminal justice careers only exacerbates the problem. We all know that public defenders' offices across the country are infamously unable to retain staff, but jail staff and police forces often face the same budget shortfalls that make these issues worse.


By Lauren Gill, July 30, 2020