The criminal statute of limitations is a period set by California state law regarding the time-limit for the prosecution to sue and the time-period when suspects can be charged with a crime. Generally, the statute of limitations is longer for violent crimes. Criminal laws typically consider expected penalties and sentencing to determine time limitation for crimes not specifically listed in the criminal statutes of limitation:
- Six years for felonies punishable by at least eight years in prison;
- Three years for felonies and crimes that result in imprisonment; and
- One year for misdemeanors.
Certain crimes will have no limitation for when a case can be filed. If you need help determining the applicable statute of limitations for a criminal case, contact a local criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.
Purpose of Time Limits
Once the period of limitation is passed, lawsuits can no longer be filed for that crime. This is an element of criminal law that’s meant to keep the criminal justice system fair and protect the defendants from the consequences of delayed hearings and prosecution. For example, if you were accused of a crime that happened years ago, you may have lost receipts, paperwork, or other documents that will help your defense and prove your innocence.
While prosecutors still have to prove to court beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the crime you were being charged for, it would be prejudicial against the defendant to have limited defense or no way of countering the claims of a prosecutor in a criminal case due to evidence being lost with time.
California Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations for various criminal offenses according toCalifornia Penal Code 799(PC 799) are listed in the table below. The limitations period for wobbler offenses (crimes which can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor) depends on which type the prosecution charges the criminal offense as. Check your state laws or speak with a criminal defense lawyer to learn about the limitations applicable for crimes not listed here.
|Statute of Limitations||Crimes & Offenses|
|10 years||Felony sex offenses against a child|
|Failure to register as a sex offender|
|6 years||Felony charges punishable by imprisonment for 8 years or more|
|5 years||Elder abuse|
|Crimes against dependent adults|
|Domestic-violence and bodily injury to spouse or cohabitant|
|4 years||Felony fraud|
|Embezzlement or theft against elderly or dependent adults|
|Misconduct by public officials|
|3 years||Felony offenses|
|2 years||Sexual crimes against a patient by a physician or therapist|
|No Statute of Limitations||Aggravated sexual assault of a child|
|Crimes punishable by death or life sentences|
|Embezzlement of Public Money|
|First-degree murder, homicide, and manslaughter|
|Rape involving force or violence|
Starting and Tolling the Clock
The statutory period doesn’t begin until the crime occurs or is discovered. California’s discovery rule for determining the start of the statutory period is especially helpful if the victim may be too scared to report the offense (as in cases of sex-abuse or sex-crime), or was unable to immediately recognize the offense (as in child sexual abuse cases).
The statute may also be tolled or paused under certain circumstances. For example, if the perpetrator goes into hiding or out of the state’s jurisdiction, the statute tolls until they reenter the state. This prevents intentional hiding or fleeing of criminals to wait out the clock and avoid legal action against crimes they could have been charged with.
Besides, certain limitations may be tolled or eliminated since the circumstances around the crime qualify as exceptions to the rule on statutory limitations.
- Rape cases involving minors that require DNA evidence may toll or eliminate the statutory period.
- Childhood sexual abuse or sex-crimes against a minor will have a statute of limitations until the victim turns 28.
Getting a Defense Attorney is Vital
There are a lot of exceptions and considerations that make determining the statute of limitations for criminal cases difficult and confusing. Discussing your circumstances and the charges against you with experienced criminal defense attorneys will help you to more accurately determine the statute of limitations and how you can incorporate it into your defense. If you’re facing criminal charges, call us at the Law Offices of Marc Grossman, LLP, and request a free consultation today!