California Criminal Statute Of Limitations
Let’s say, hypothetically of course, that you robbed a bank last night. Let’s also give you the benefit of the doubt and say that because you’re such a good bank robber, it’s going to be ten years before you get caught. Because of something called the statute of limitations, ten years from now, neither the state nor the federal government will be allowed to prosecute you for the crime.
Why? Because a statute of limitations is a legal time limit for state and federal authorities to bring charges against an individual. Bank robbery, for example, has a federal statute of limitations of five years. California’s statute of limitations on bank robbery, depending on any aggravating circumstances, is three to six years.
So, if you aren’t discovered as the bank robber for ten years, you will be outside of the statute of limitations for both state and federal charges.
Why Does The Statute Of Limitations Exist?
The criminal statute of limitations exists to help ensure fairness for defendants. Evidence often gets lost or destroyed over time. Witnesses to crimes may move after several years, or they may just no longer recall certain facts that took place.
The result is that it would be unfair to pursue criminal charges against a person after a certain period of time has passed.
Are All Crimes Subject To The Statute Of Limitations?
Not all crimes have a statute of limitations. An individual who commits a crime with no statutory period can be prosecuted no matter how much time has passed. In California, there are three types of crimes that have no statute of limitations:
- Offenses punishable by death (murder, for example)
- Offenses punishable by life imprisonment without the possibility of parole
- Embezzlement of public money
Keep in mind that each state has different statutory periods for different types of crimes. What is true in California is not necessarily true everywhere else.
When Does The Statutory Period Begin?
Because some crimes go undiscovered for a period of time, there is something called the Discovery Rule. The Discovery Rule is used to determine when the statutory period for bringing criminal charges begins. The rule says that the statute of limitations clock begins to run when an offense is discovered.
For example, let’s say a person commits a misdemeanor on December 1st, 2019. However, authorities don’t learn of the crime until January 1st, 2020. Prosecutors have until January 1st, 2021, to bring misdemeanor charges (the statute of limitations on most misdemeanors is one year).
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