Oklahoma law requires that, following an arrest, authorities take a defendant before a magistrate without “unnecessary delay.” (Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 22, § 181.) The law is designed to protect people who’ve been arrested from being held in custody for long periods of time without oversight by the courts.
(For general information on first court appearances, see Arraignment: Getting to Court.)
The law in Oklahoma doesn’t specifically define what “unnecessary delay” means; the Oklahoma Court of Appeals determined that courts should analyze each case on its own set of facts. (Luttrell v. Freeman, 444 P.2d 857 (1968).)
In Luttrell, the authorities took the defendant before a clerk, not a magistrate. The court held that the appearance before a clerk didn’t satisfy the first appearance requirements. But it also held that the defendant needed to prove that the unnecessary delay was prejudicial—that it harmed his case in some way. The court mentioned one case where the defendant was in custody for 33 days without being taken to a judge, but where that delay didn’t prejudice the defendant. An example of potential harm (or “prejudice”) that might result from unnecessary delay is a confession that the defendant wouldn’t have given if brought to court on time.
Probable Cause Hearing
In many cases, the arrestee also has a right to a probable cause hearing that must occur within 48 hours of arrest. Through the hearing, the judicial officer decides whether there is sufficient evidence to continue to hold the defendant. A delay of more than 48 hours is presumptively unreasonable, such that courts will presume that any evidence obtained outside that window is inadmissible at trial. The prosecution can, however, overcome that presumption by showing justification for the delay. (Black v. State, 871 P.2d 35 (1994).)
Consult a Lawyer
If you have been arrested or charged with a crime, you should contact a criminal defense attorney in your area as soon as possible. For instance, an attorney can explain to you what will happen at your initial court appearances and explain the plea process (see How should I plead at arraignment?).
Furthermore, the practices and procedures related to criminal charges can vary widely even within states. An experienced lawyer can:
- fully advise you of the applicable law
- guide you through the court process
- assist in trying to get you out of jail, and
- advise you regarding charges, penalties, and any potential defenses.