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Statute of Limitations

California Criminal Statute of Limitations

A statute of limitations (SOL) is the time period within which the district attorney can file criminal charges. If the set deadline passes, the DA cannot prosecute you for that crime.

The California criminal statute of limitations is generally one year for misdemeanors and three years for felonies. However, prosecutors have additional time to press charges for more severe cases.

California's criminal statute of limitations is the time period for a prosecutor to file charges.

The statute of limitations motivates prosecutors to investigate matters quickly before memories fade and potential trial evidence disappears.

When a prosecutor waits a long time to file criminal charges, it can create an unfair advantage as you might no longer have access to favorable evidence that could exonerate you.

Simply put, the statute of limitations in criminal cases applies when the state or federal prosecutor can file criminal charges.

Police will start an investigation when they believe a crime has occurred, which can last weeks, months, and sometimes years. After the police have a suspect, they consult with the district attorney since they are solely responsible for charging someone with a crime.

In California, if you are held in custody, the prosecutor has 48 hours to charge you with a crime. Otherwise, police must release you from custody if the charges are not filed within that time.

The prosecutor can always bring charges against you months, weeks, or years later if they believe they can prove you committed the crime. The statute of limitations for a particular offense determines how long the prosecutor charges you with a crime.

Prosecution or "filing charges" is when the district attorney files an information or indictment, a complaint charging a misdemeanor, arraignment on a felony complaint, or the judge issues an arrest warrant or bench warrant.

Statute of Limitations - Quick Facts

  • The criminal statute of limitations defines the maximum time prosecutors have to file criminal charges in a case.
  • In California, the general rule is one year for misdemeanors and three years for felonies, but many exceptions exist.
  • The statute of limitations is six years if a felony is punishable by eight or more years in state prison.
  • Violent felonies typically have longer statutes of limitations.
  • Penal Code 187 PC murder has no statute of limitations.
  • Sometimes, the SOL is "tolled," meaning suspended, allowing additional time to file charges against someone.
  • California laws mainly set a time limit for filing charges, along with some exceptions and tolling rules.
  • If somebody is charged with a crime after the applicable time has passed, they can get the case dismissed.
  • The SOL is designed to protect the defendant's rights because evidence of their innocence could be lost if too much time passes.
  • The SOL exists to ensure fairness for a criminal defendant.
  • Some serious offenses don't have a statute of limitations.
  • The Discovery Rule determines when the clock starts running.
  • California Penal Codes 799-802 define the statute of limitations.

What is the Statute of Limitations for Misdemeanors?

California law typically imposes a one-year SOL on misdemeanors, such as the following common crimes:

Suppose the misdemeanor is a "wobbler" that can be filed as a felony. In that case, the SOL is based on the maximum prison term the defendant can receive if filed as a felony.

What is the Statute of Limitations for Felonies?

California law typically imposes a three-year SOL on felonies, such as the following common crimes:

California Penal Code 800 PC states that if a crime is punishable with eight years or more in state prison, the statute of limitations is six years, such as the following:

Which Crimes Have No Statute of Limitations?

California Penal Code 799 PC defines crimes with no statute of limitations. These severe offenses are typically categorized as crimes punishable by death, embezzlement of public funds, and crimes publishable by life in prison, including the following:

  • Penal Code 187 PC - murder,
  • Penal Code 209 PC - kidnapping,
  • Penal Code 261 PC - rape,
  • Penal Code 286 PC - sodomy,
  • Penal Code 288 PC - lewd acts with a minor,
  • Penal Code 287 PC - oral copulation,
  • Penal Code 289 PC - foreign object penetration.

Which Crimes are the Exceptions?

In California, there are exceptions to the general state of limitations rules, such as the following:

  • Two-year SOL for sex crimes by a therapist or doctor toward a patient.
  • Three-year SOL for certain crimes committed against a minor under 14.
  • Four-year SOL for theft, fraud, embezzlement, breach of trust with an elder, or misconduct by a public official.
  • Five-year SOL for an elder crime or any offense involving a dependent adult other than theft, embezzlement, and PC 273.5 corporal injury to a spouse.
  • Ten-year SOL for failing to register as a sex offender (PC 290) after a conviction, such as producing child pornography (PC 311.4).

When Does the SOL Clock Start?

The clock for the statute of limitations starts running when the police discover that they have probable cause to believe a crime was committed. Under California's Discovery Rule, the SOL does not begin to run until an offense has been or could reasonably have been discovered.

Statute of Limitations

If charges are not filed within the SOL, the charge must be dismissed. Sometimes, even when charges are filed within the SOL, a California criminal defense lawyer can still argue for dismissed charges based on due process.

Typically, this would apply in criminal cases in which the district attorney took so long to file charges that it has become very challenging for the defendant's lawyer to gather evidence that would have been favorable to the defendant's case.

Simply put, the Discovery Rule dictates when the time begins for the California statute of limitations. Still, generally, the clock starts running when a crime is discovered rather than when it occurred.

If you need legal representation during any criminal investigation, contact us to review the case. If you were charged with an old offense, there might be an SOL violation.

If so, a motion to dismiss a criminal case can be filed in court at any time but is typically heard by the judge as a demurrer motion at the arraignment. We offer a free case evaluation. The Hedding Law Firm is based in Los Angeles, CA.

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