Jails and prisons have to release inmates who have served their time or otherwise deserve freedom. After the release obligation arises, jailers have to act within a reasonable amount of time. For example, if a sheriff’s department realizes it has the wrong suspect in custody or that the arrestee wasn’t drunk in public, but rather suffering from symptoms related to diabetes, it must promptly release the prisoner.
Generally, if jailers fail to discharge within a reasonable time an inmate whom they know or should know is entitled to release, they can be held liable in civil court for false imprisonment. However, jail personnel don’t necessarily have to investigate all claims that they’ve nabbed the wrong person—their obligation depends on the circumstances. And delay due to necessary administrative tasks like processing and transportation is typically excused.
Those who have been imprisoned and believe they were confined for an unreasonably long period of time should consult an experienced attorney to determine whether any relief is possible, including whether the government has an “immunity” defense.