You're a murder suspect. Do you need to be told that you've been cleared?

This question comes from watching way too much Law & Order.

Suppose that you’re being investigated for a crime, such as murder. You may or may not have been arrested, but if you were, you’ve posted bond. You’re told not to leave the state.

The police discover some evidence pointing to someone else, and they are pretty sure that you are innocent.

Do they have an obligation to let you know that you’re off the hook? Or can they just let you worry about it indefinitely?

um, after you’ve posted bond, don’t you have to appear at court for trial within a certain amount of days (the habeas corpus right)? And wouldn’t the dismissal of that trial date prompt you to ask and learn thus that John Doe is now being tried for that murder case instead of you?

Is there actually any process of ‘clearing a suspect’ at all? Recently the authorities began using the term ‘person of interest’ instead of suspect, I think to avoid public demands to arrest the usual suspects. Is there actually any legal definition of a ‘suspect’, or ‘clearing’?

A “person of interest” could also be a witness, or able to provide the cops with more information. It’s a deliberately ambiguous term, so that the cops can let us know they want to talk to a person, without declaring that the person is or is not a suspect in the case.

I think constanze gets to the main point: if the police haven’t done anything officially (like arrest and charge you) in their investigation, then they don’t have to do anything officially when they clear you. And I’m pretty sure a detective saying “Don’t leave town” is only unofficial advice (with the full, implied message being “Don’t leave town, because that’s going to piss us off and make you look guilty as sin”), not an official enforceable order. Whether there’s a moral obligation, aside from any legal ones, is a separate question.

As constanze said, if there’s an official charge, then you’ve got a decent clue when that charge goes away.

Anyway, as lots of Law and Order viewings would demonstrate, sometimes people go from being suspected, to not very suspected, back to being prime suspects, during the course of an investigation, so it makes sense that detectives/DA’s aren’t going to be quick to officially exonerate someone. Although, when they charge someone else, it’s another big clue.

If you have been arrested, then you were either charged with a crime or released without charges. If you were charged, the DA has an obligation to either withdraw the charges or proceed to trial. You would have to be informed if the charges were withdrawn, particularly if you’d posted bail.

If you were not charged, there’s no obligation for anyone to declare that you have been cleared.

No. Habeus Corpus is filed when you are already incarcerated and are challenging said incarceration. If you have been granted bail, then any writ of Habeus Corpus automatically stands fructified.

Being arrested and or released has no direct correlation to whether or not a charge is in fact dropped, or you remain a suspect or not. If you are in fact charged, the matter might in some juridictions never reach the prosecuting authority, the police might drop the matter on their own.
To the OP, no you do not need to be strictly told that you have been cleared. You might in practice find out and many police forces will tell suspects of this fact but no, generally they do not need to tell you anything.


I take it that if you ask, they are still under no obligation to tell you, or tell you the truth?

Do you get your bail money back? How so, if there is no formal dropping of the charges?

Answer might vary according to jurisdiction, but once the reason that you were granted bail ends, then you can get it back.

Also, once they have charged you and then you get bail, they just cannot hold up the case forever, they have certain period of time in which to complete the investigation or prove the case in court. Otherwise, the Court will simply discharge you.

They are under no obligation to tell you generally. Police code of conduct rules might in appropriate circumstances prevent them from lying to you.

A friend’s boyfriend was arrested for a white collar crime (wrong place at the wrong time- loooong story)-- we drove down and posted bail for him ($20,000 through a bondsman, so $2000). For several months, his attorney had no idea what the State was or wasn’t doing; depending on who lawyer would talk to, some would say they were going to nail this guy to the wall just for being there, the other half would say they had nothing on him.

He had a court date, of course. Boyfriend flew from across the country to come in for it. When lawyer and friend’s boyfriend showed up, their name wasn’t on the list for the day. They went over to the DA’s office, who said that for the time being, they didn’t plan to proceed— but that at any point during X statutory period, they could go back and refile. Also, apparently, if they do decide to come after him again, he’ll have to post another bond. He, obviously, never got the original $2000 back from the bondsman.

That would be dropping the charge, though, wouldn’t it? My point was that if you are charged, there has to be some official resolution. You’re either indicted or the charges are dropped. You can’t be charged and just have that charge hang there indefinitely.

For a more minor crime than murder - ie. that doesn’t require bail - the way it works is along the lines of: you get arrested. If the prosecutor decides not to charge you at that point, you’re released, but often given a date to report back to find if you’ll be charged or not. If they decide not to charge you on that date either, they’ll just say “you’re being released without charge for the moment”.

The police will never really say “you’ve been officially cleared”, it doesn’t work like that. If they release you without charge, and don’t give you a date to report back, you can be fairly sure you’re in the clear. But if something new comes up they’ll be hauling you in again, so I suppose yes, they do make you “worry about it indefinitely” in a way.

Hmm. I never knew that the posted bond was the bondsman’s fee; I always assumed it was a precentage of that amount. Much better off paying the 10% (or whatever) yourself… but I guess that’s the point, eh? Easier to eventually pay the bondsman $2k than having to come up with it on the spot for the court. But at least you’d get it back.

On a related note: Once you’ve been arrested, assuming you are cleared of the charges (found innocent, charges dropped, whatever), is your record expunged after the fact? Or will you always have an arrest record for murder (for example) but no convictions?

The bail bondsman has to pay the $20,000 to court if the defendant doesn’t return to court. The fee for taking that risk is usually about 10%. Some courts allow a defendant to pay 10% of the bond amount in cash which is returned at the conclusion of the case - but not all courts allow this.
Whether an arrest appears on your criminal record sheet after charges are dropped , you’re acquitted is going to depend on who is requesting the record- law enforcement agencies and courts may get information an employer won’t get.

In my experience, nothing ever goes away, at least not in Colorado, where I worked. The people who can access the information may be limited, but it will be there.

On the issue of record a although the specifics will vary across juridiction, here is one good rule of the thumb. You should always presume thta Dealings with public bodies are always public record and anyone can access them. it is true that local laws and regulations might affect the access of data, but unless you are advised so, assume that all your dealings are public record.