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What Crimes Don’t Have a Statute of Limitations in California?

January 9, 2020

There is no statute of limitations for murder.

What Crimes Don’t Have a Statute of Limitations in California?

In the legal system, the statute of limitations is a period of time in which a case must be filed. For civil cases, the statute of limitations gives individuals a certain amount of time to file a lawsuit. If they don’t file their claim within that period of time, then their case will be barred. Similarly, in the criminal justice system, most criminal offenses must be filed within a specific statute of limitations, such as 5 years. If a prosecutor does not file criminal charges within that time, then the person cannot be charged with that crime.


However, according to a murder defense lawyer in Riverside, CA, there are some California crimes that do not have a statute of limitations. Under California law, there are three types of criminal offenses that do not have a statute of limitations:

  1. Any offense that is punishable by death (such as first-degree murder);
  2. Any offense that is punishable by life in prison or for life without the possibility of parole (such as first-degree attempted murder); and
  3. Embezzlement of public money.

Importantly, all other crimes do have a statute of limitations. The statute of limitations will vary based on the crime. For example, felony crimes have a statute of limitations of 3 years. However, any crime that is punishable by 8 or more years in prison has a statute of limitations of 6 years. Generally, misdemeanor offenses have a 1 year statute of limitations.

The statute of limitations in a criminal case begins to run when a criminal offense is discovered, rather than when it is committed. This is an important distinction, because some crimes are not discovered immediately. For example, if a person commits elder financial abuse by fraudulently writing checks to themselves while taking care of an elderly person, it may not be discovered until someone else reviews that person’s finances. It is only after law enforcement learns of the crime that the clock begins to run.


The statute of limitations is designed to ensure that the criminal justice process is fair, particularly for defendants. Over time, evidence may be lost or destroyed, and witness’ memories may fade. For this reason, it is important to have limits on how long after the fact a crime can be charged.

Of course, these time limits do not apply to serious offenses such as murder. If you commit a murder and there simply isn’t enough evidence to bring a criminal charge at the time that the body is discovered, you are not “off the hook.” The prosecutor can charge you with murder 5, 10, 20 or more years if they obtain evidence. For example, the Golden State Killer was arrested in April 2018 for eight counts of first-degree murder that he committed between 1974 and 1986. Importantly, because California’s statute of limitations for rape was 10 years until a change in the law in 2017, the alleged Golden State Killer was not charged for over 50 rapes that were committed.

Being charged with a murder that was committed years or even decades ago can make it more challenging to defend against the offense. An experienced murder defense lawyer in Riverside, CA can work with you to track down critical facts and develop defenses to the charge. The Chambers Law Firm represents individuals throughout Southern California who have been charged with murder and other crimes. Contact us today at 855-397-0210 or dchambers@clfca.com to schedule a free initial consultation.

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