It’s not uncommon for someone to spend time in jail before they are actually convicted of a crime.

After someone is arrested, they can be held in custody until their arraignment. The judge will make a determination on the defendant’s bail during the arraignment, and if the defendant cannot afford bail or if bail is denied, they will remain in custody until their trial and sentencing.

This pretrial detention period counts as “time served.”

If the defendant is eventually convicted, the time they’ve already spent in jail will be credited towards their sentence.

What does ‘time served’ mean?

“Time served” refers to the period a defendant has already spent in jail or prison while awaiting trial or sentencing. This time is typically credited towards the total sentence imposed, reducing the remaining time the defendant must serve post-conviction.

In the California Criminal Code, “time served” is addressed under California Penal Code § 2900.5. This section says that any days of incarceration prior to sentencing should be credited towards the sentence, including time spent in jail, juvenile detention or similar facilities.

Frequently asked questions about ‘time served’

What does it mean if a prosecutor offers me a ‘time served’ deal?

If a prosecutor offers you a “time served” deal, it means they are proposing a plea agreement where the time you have already spent custody will be considered sufficient punishment for the crime you are charged with. This often involves the following:

  1. Pleading guilty – You would need to plead guilty to the charges against you as part of the deal.
  2. Immediate release – Since you have already served time equivalent to or more than the sentence agreed upon, you would typically be released immediately or very soon after the agreement is accepted by the court.
  3. Probation – While you would not be required to serve any additional jail time, “time served” deals can sometimes include accepting probation.

A prosecutor just offered me a ‘time served’ deal. Should I take it?

Let’s say you were arrested and you are being held in a county jail. The prosecutor offers you “time served,” which means that you can leave jail today in exchange for a guilty plea.

Is it worth it?

The answer is that it depends. While taking “time served” will get you out of jail today, it typically does entail entering a guilty plea and accepting probation. This means that:

  1. The offense will be in your criminal record, which can affect your prospects for employment, housing and more.
  2. You’ll be required to complete the conditions of probation, which can include regular reporting, counseling, substance abuse classes, restitution and fines, depending on the specifics of the case.

If you are willing to accept the downsides for immediate release, taking the deal might be a good idea. Otherwise, it might be a better idea to fight your charges.

The case against me is strong. Should I just stay in jail instead of bailing out?

In another example, let’s say you were arrested and there is a mountain of evidence against you.

Rather than prolong the inevitable, is it a better idea to stay in jail while your case makes its way through the system? 

The answer is that it depends on your personal situation.

Many people stay in jail simply due to their financial situation. If posting bail would cause financial hardship for you or your family, the practical decision is to stay in confinement. As well, because it allows them to put the situation behind them months sooner than if they bailed out, some people do stay in jail to get credit for time served.

However, bailing out of custody has two main benefits, even if the case against you is strong:

  1. Personal and family benefits – If you have children, family or other people that you care for, this will allow you to continue caring for them.
  2. Preparing your defense – It’s easier to meet with your attorney and prepare your defense outside of jail.

Every case is different, and your attorney can help you weigh the pros and cons of each.

With more than 40 years of experience and a track record of more than 4,000 successful defenses, attorney Robert M. Helfend is your best choice for preserving your freedom in Los Angeles.

Recognized as a top criminal defense attorney, Mr. Helfend combines deep legal knowledge with a proactive, detail-oriented approach to ensure the best possible outcome for your case. Don’t face criminal charges alone — call the Helfend Law Group now and secure the expert defense you deserve – 800-834-6434.

Published June 27, 2024.