In the United States, the rights of accused criminals are protected by a number of rules, regulations and statutes. In addition, the U.S. Constitution informs the actions of the police departments and court systems that are responsible for processing and trying accused criminals. Certain crucial parts of the country's founding document establish the philosophical and legal underpinnings of the American system of criminal justice. Among these are the "equal protection," "due process" and "unusual punishment" clauses. Although these are intentionally vague and subject to multiple interpretations, they have been bolstered by a substantial and still-accumulating body of legal precedent. Over the years, this body of precedent has created an understanding of the rights and "non-rights" of individuals who have formally been accused of criminal acts.
If you're being held in a local jail on an older felony warrant, you have every right to be nervous. Even though all accused criminals are technically afforded the rights described in the previous paragraph, local police departments may "bend" or even violate these privileges. Before you make any ill-advised moves, you should take stock of your rights as an accused criminal and carefully consider your options.
It's often said that local law enforcement agencies may not hold individuals for more than 48 hours without charging them with a crime. This is not entirely accurate. While it's true that this is an accepted benchmark that has been challenged and upheld in court, it's also true that it has been flouted with impunity in the past. If you're arrested on the Friday evening before a long weekend, it's likely that you'll remain in jail until the following Tuesday.
If you're being held on an old warrant, you could be held for even longer than this. Judges routinely grant "holding extensions" to law enforcement agencies that need to conduct investigations into the circumstances that surrounded the issuance of such warrants. If your warrant is seven years old, chances are good that the authorities will need to talk to retired officers or hard-to-locate witnesses in order to learn more about your case.
Out-of-state warrants can create yet another headache. If the warrant on which you've been arrested was issued by another legal jurisdiction, you may have to endure an extradition hearing. Since this requires the cooperation of the authorities in the warrant-issuing jurisdiction, it may take days to resolve. Alternatively, you may be asked to waive your extradition rights and face charges in your current state.