What’s the Statute of Limitations for Crimes in California?
The statute of limitations in a criminal case dictates the amount of time the prosecutor has to take action. The deadlines for commencing prosecution are different for misdemeanors and felonies. Still, the purpose of the time limits is to protect criminal defendants from being unfairly tried and convicted of crimes. If the prosecutor attempts to bring a case after the statute of limitations has passed, the defendant’s criminal defense lawyer may file a motion to dismiss. If you have been accused of a crime in Santa Rosa, contact the Law Offices of Evan E. Zelig, P.C. at (707) 418-5352 to discuss your case.
What Are Statutes of Limitations?
Statutes of limitations impose thresholds on the time a prosecutor has to begin a criminal case. The deadlines vary based on the severity of the alleged offense. A prosecutor typically has more time to start a felony case than a misdemeanor. However, for the most serious criminal matters, such as homicide, the statute of limitations does not apply, meaning no time limit exists for prosecution. Prosecution begins on a case when any of the following happens:
- The prosecutor files an information or complaint,
- The suspect is arraigned, or
- The judge issues a warrant.
If prosecution is not started within the allotted period, the defendant can file a motion with the court to dismiss the case.
Why Do Criminal Prosecutions Have Time Limits?
The statute of limitations is an important part of the judicial process. It facilitates fairness in trials, protecting the defendant and society from miscarriages of justice. As time passes, potential evidence can be lost or memories can degrade and become unreliable, which could lead to an unfair trial. By imposing time limits, most court proceedings are based on fresh and accurate evidence, increasing the
chances of an impartial outcome. Moreover, statutes of limitations help protect defendants from being tried and convicted under flawed data or evidence.
What Is the Statute of Limitations for Misdemeanors?
In California, misdemeanors are crimes punishable by 1 year or less in county jail. Generally, the State has 1 year after the commission of the offense to commence prosecution. However, exceptions exist. These include the following:
- 3 years for annoying or molesting a child under 14 years of age
- 2 years for sexual misconduct by a physician or therapist
What Is the Statute of Limitations for Felonies?
Felonies are more serious crimes than misdemeanors. They carry prison terms of 1 year or more. Prosecutors typically have 3 years after the commission of the crime to start on these cases. As with misdemeanors, exceptions to the felony prosecution deadlines exist. They are as follows:
- 10 years for failure to register as a sex offender or employing a child for
- 6 years for offenses punishable by 8 years or more of imprisonment
- 4 years for fraud or breach of fiduciary duty
- 3 years for elder abuse or unauthorized computer access
- Any time before the alleged victim’s 40th birthday for certain child sex crimes, including
- Oral copulation with a minor under 14 years of age
- Lewd acts with a minor under 14 years of age
- Continuous sexual abuse of a child
- Forcible penetration with a foreign object
What Crimes Have No Prosecution Commencement Deadline?
As mentioned earlier, no prosecution time limits exist for the most serious offenses. Prosecution can begin at any time for the following crimes:
- Offenses punishable by death or life imprisonment
- Embezzlement of public money
- Certain felony rape offenses
- Oral copulation with a minor
- Lewd acts with a minor under 14 years of age, where substantial sexual
- conduct was involved
- Continuous sexual abuse of a child
- Forcible sexual penetration with a foreign object
Reach Out to a Defense Attorney
Protecting your rights in a criminal case is of the utmost importance. Doing so helps ensure that you are not subject to unfair practices. A lawyer can identify and seek remedy for any violations and pursue a just outcome on your behalf. Speak with our Santa Rosa attorney about your case by calling the Law Offices of Evan E. Zelig, P.C. at (707) 418-5352 or contacting us online.