Most states have enacted statutes, which limit the time in which crimes can be prosecuted. These time limits are referred to as “Statutes of Limitations.” Once the statute of limitations has expired, it becomes an absolute bar to prosecution. Out of the fifty states in the nation, only two do not have a statute of limitations when it comes to criminal cases. South Carolina and Wyoming.
What is a Statute of Limitations?
A statute of limitation is a law that prevents a person or government agency in a criminal case from charging someone with a crime that was committed more than a certain period of time after the incident. The purpose of a statute of limitation is to make sure convictions occur only upon evidence that has not deteriorated with time and it protects the defendant from malicious claims from a person after the fact.
Not all crimes are covered
Murder and certain felonies involving the death of a person are not covered under the statute because such protections would reach an unjust resolution and promote a public policy for defendants to have an incentive to flee and or hide. Granting this protection to a person criminally responsible for the death of another would mean that the defendant could simply hide from the authorities fort a certain length of time and then forever be barred from facing their actions.
Other crimes and misdemeanors are not covered such as in California and Arizona crimes involving public money or public records have no statutes of limitation. While in Colorado, treason has none.
- Florida Code Section 775.15
- California code Section Pen. §§799 et seq.
- Colorado Code Section 16-5-401
What is tolling?
Statutes of limitations are designed to benefit the defendant. A plaintiff, however, can prevent the dismissal of his action for untimeliness by seeking to toll the statute. When the statute is tolled, the running of the time period is suspended until some event specified by law takes place. Tolling provisions benefit a plaintiff by extending the time period in which he is permitted to bring suit.
Sex crimes and DNA evidence
In recent years, there have been efforts to eliminate statutes of limitations for sex offenses generally and child sex offenses specifically. These movements are often based on the premise that victims have been hurt and scarred for a lifetime and criminals should not escape punishment. There are practical considerations, however, that complicate this approach.
Some states have no statute of limitations on felony offenses, no statute of limitations on sex offenses, no statute of limitations on child sex offenses or extended statute of limitations for sex offenses. Several states have also chosen to enact statutes which toll (extend) the statute of limitations based on DNA identification.
Examples of states that toll based on DNA evidence include:
- Arkansas Code. Ann. § 5-1-109(b)(1)(B) & (H) DNA tolls for 15 yrs. (rape cases only)
- California. Penal Code §§799-803.6 1 yr. from the date identity is established by DNA. Applies to sex offenses and other offense.
- Colorado Rev. Stat. § 16-5-401(1)(a) the identity is determined by DNA within 10 years after the offense, there shall be no limit on the period of time during which a person may be prosecute.
- Connecticut Gen. Stat. § 54-193a the SOL is tolled for 20 years for sex offenses