What Does “Statute of Limitations” Mean?

A statute of limitations provides a timeframe during which prosecutors can accuse a person of wrongdoing. If they file a charge after the statute of limitation, the accused can request a dismissal of charges. There are statutes of limitations for civil cases and criminal laws. We’ll focus on criminal laws here.

Can I Be Charged With a Crime 10 Years Later?

The statute of limitations varies with the type of crime. The more serious and violent the crime, the longer the prosecutors have to file a charge. In California, statutes of limitations can be as little as one year to no set time limit.

Whether or not you can be charged with a crime 10 years after the fact depends on the crime. Generally, felony offenses that lead to imprisonment for eight years or more have a six-year statute of limitations, while other types of felonies have a three-year time limit, and misdemeanors can be dismissed after one year.

In addition to general timelines, California sets specific statutes of limitations for certain crimes, such as:

  • Felony fraud: Four years after completion or discovery of the criminal act, whichever is later
  • Embezzlement or theft of elderly or dependent adult: Four years after completion or discovery of the criminal act, whichever is later
  • Public official misconduct: Four years after completion or discovery of the criminal act, whichever is later
  • Committing an act that results in bodily injury to former or current intimate partner: Five years
  • Other crimes against dependent adults or elderly: Five years
  • Felony sex crimes with registration requirement: 10 years
  • Felony sex crimes against a minor: Up to when the minor turns 40

Some crimes can be charged and sentenced as either a felony or misdemeanor. The statute of limitation for these crimes depends on how the offense is charged. If prosecutors file it as a felony, then the felony statute generally applies.

Is There a Statute of Limitations for Every Crime?

Some crimes are considered egregious enough to place no time limit on when prosecutors can bring a charge against the accused. Crimes for which there are no statutes of limitations include:

  • First-degree murder
  • Violent or forcible rape
  • Aggravated sexual assault of a minor
  • Treason
  • Embezzlement of public money

In general, crimes that may result in life imprisonment or the death sentence have no statute of limitations.

When Does the Clock Start for Criminal Statute of Limitations?

The statute of limitations clock starts ticking when the person allegedly commits the crime. In cases where the crime is harder to discover or when the victim may be too scared to report it, prosecutors may have more time to file. A judge can also extend the statute of limitations under certain circumstances, though this is rare.

How Can an Attorney Help Me With Statutes of Limitations?

Though there are general guidelines that establish statutes of limitations, nuances in the law and the particulars of any given case can impact how the courts interpret the law. It takes years of study and courtroom experience to understand the finer points of statutes of limitations. The attorneys at Chambers Law Firm can help you understand how the statute of limitations impacts you when you’ve been accused of a crime. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation with no obligation required.

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