Are There Time Limits on When a Criminal Case Must Be Initiated?
There’s a longstanding principle in our legal system, known as the “statute of limitations,” that sets limits on the amount of time that may pass before a civil lawsuit is filed or a criminal prosecution commences. In this blog, we will focus specifically on the rules governing criminal actions.
There are a number of sound reasons for having a statute of limitations in place:
- The more time that elapses between the alleged commission of a crime and the prosecution of that offense, the greater the risk that evidence will be lost. Witnesses may move or die, and memories fade. Requiring that the case be presented within a certain amount of time promotes an outcome based on a clearer recollection of the facts.
- Without a statute of limitations, a person suspected of criminal behavior would have to live constantly with the possibility of prosecution hanging over his head. This is generally considered patently unfair, although may not be considered so for certain serious crimes.
The Statutes of Limitations for Crimes in Texas
Under Article 12 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, the various statutes of limitations for the different criminal offenses are set forth. Under the rules, if the prosecution fails to file its case within the specified time, the defendant can no longer be prosecuted.
The time period specified for prosecution varies, based on the type and severity of offense. It’s also important to understand that, although a specific time period may be set forth in the statute, the period of time can be “tolled,” or suspended, in certain situations. In such a scenario, the clock will not run on the prosecution. For example, in Texas, the statutory period will be suspended if the defendant was not present in the state (and thereby not subject to the jurisdiction of the court. “The statute of limitations will also be paused if the defendant was already under indictment for “the same conduct, same act or same transaction.”
As a general rule, a misdemeanor charge in Texas must be filed within two years of the date of the offense. As the offense becomes more serious, the statutory period is extended. Theft, kidnapping and fraud offenses generally carry a 5 year statute of limitations, although there are a number of other non-violent crimes with 7 year periods, including money laundering, tax code violations and criminal conduct by fiduciaries. For sexual assault, compelling prostitution, human trafficking, forgery and certain theft crimes, the statute of limitations goes up to 10 years.
There are, however, a number of crimes for which there is no statute of limitations, including:
- Murder or manslaughter
- Many types of sexual assault, including sexual assault of a child, serial sexual assault and indecency with a child
- Leaving the scene of a fatal traffic accident
- Human trafficking of a child or continuous human trafficking
- Compelling a person under the age of 18 into prostitution
Contact the Experienced Criminal Defense Attorneys at Bailey & Galyen
At the law office of Bailey & Galyen, we provide a free initial consultation to every client. To set up an appointment with an experienced Texas criminal defense attorney, contact us by e-mail or call our offices at one of the convenient locations listed below. We will take your call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.