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Are There California Crimes without a Statute of Limitations?

February 28, 2019

There are three categories of crimes that do not have a statute of limitations in California

Are There California Crimes without a Statute of Limitations? For most criminal offenses in California, prosecutors are bound by a statute of limitations.  This is a period of time that limits when a criminal charge can be brought.  Statute of limitations are designed to ensure that defendants receive a fair trial.  After a certain amount of time has passed, evidence may be destroyed, and witnesses’ memory may no longer be accurate. For this reason, most crimes cannot be charged after a period of time has elapsed (as defined by statute).  For example, a crime that is punishable by eight years or more in prison have a statute of limitations of six years.

However, there are some California crimes that do not have a statute of limitations.  These offenses tend to be the most serious crimes.  According to a criminal defense lawyer Anaheim, CA, the California crimes without a statute of limitations fall into three primary categories:

  1. Any crimes punishable by death (capital crimes, such as first degree murder);
  2. Any crime punishable by a sentence of life in state prison or life without the possibility of parole (other degrees of murder); and
  3. Embezzlement of public money.

All other crimes have a statute of limitations, which will begin to run when the criminal offense is discovered. For example, if a person steals a piece of jewelry from a home on August 1, 2018, but the homeowner does not discover it until February 1, 2019, the statute of limitations begins to run on February 1, 2019 — the day that the crime is discovered.

As a general rule, felonies have a statute of limitations of three years.  Misdemeanor offenses have a statute of limitations of one year in most cases.  However, there are exceptions.  For wobbler offenses, which are crimes that can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor depending on the facts of the case and the defendant’s criminal history, the statute of limitations will depend on how the offense is charged (as a felony or a misdemeanor).

Why does the statute of limitations matter? As a criminal defense lawyer Anaheim, CA can explain, it is important to people charged with crimes because it can serve as a method to have your charges dismissed.  If a prosecutor does not bring charges in a timely fashion, your attorney can move to have them dismissed.   Again, this is because it would be unfair — and a violation of your due process rights — to be forced to go to trial when the evidence against you may be compromised due to the passage of time.

Of course, for more serious crimes such as murder, there is no statute of limitations.  The California Legislature has made a judgment that these cases should be prosecuted whenever they are discovered — regardless of whether evidence has degraded or witness memories have faded.  In these situations, it is all the more important to have a skilled criminal defense lawyer Anaheim, CA to represent you.

If you have been charged with a California criminal offense, the Chambers Law Firm can help. Contact our office today at 855-397-0210 or dchambers@clfca.com to schedule a free initial consultation.


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