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Domestic Violence Statute of Limitations

Posted by Ronald D. Hedding | Jun 20, 2024

Like most criminal issues, domestic violence (DV) has a statute of limitations under California law that imposes deadlines on anyone who wants to report a case of domestic violence.

These deadlines are necessary because, generally speaking, the longer the period after a crime has been committed, the less reliable the evidence. Thus, it's essential that victims of domestic violence act promptly.

Domestic Violence Statute of Limitations in California
Domestic violence prosecutors have five years from the date of the alleged incident to file charges.

California's statute of limitations (SOL) for criminal cases is typically one year for misdemeanors and three years for felonies. More severe cases allow the district attorney additional time to file (press) charges, and no statute of limitations applies to the most serious crimes, such as murder and rape.

Thus, it's important to note that the statute of limitations for domestic violence cases in California is five years from the date of the incident. This is significantly longer than most other offenses and was extended in 2020.

The extension allows for the length of time that it typically takes some victims to come forward and report the incident. Domestic violence is frequently considered a "hidden crime" because it can take some courage for a victim to report a family member to the police.

Before the extension, the statute of limitations used to be one year for any misdemeanor DV and three years for any domestic violence felonies. Now, with the extension, alleged victims of domestic violence have five years to file a police report or for the alleged abuser to be charged with a crime.

Under the same law that extended the SOL, a new category of domestic violence was created in California, known as "coercive control." This provides the district attorney with expanded powers to charge cases of domestic abuse that do not result in physical violence but rather only involve mental or emotional abuse from another person living in the house.

Domestic Violence SOL - Quick Facts

  • The statute of limitations (SOL) is the maximum period after an event within which a legal case may be initiated.
  • This legal principle ensures that cases are brought to court within a reasonable timeframe.
  • The SOL protects people from facing the threat of criminal charges indefinitely.
  • Recent changes to the law have extended the statute of limitations for domestic violence crimes in California to five years.
  • If you were implicated in domestic violence, the alleged victim now has five years to come forward to report the incident.
  • Prosecutors have five years from the incident to bring charges.
  • This extension allows for the length of time that it usually takes some alleged victims to come forward and report the DV incident.

Why Are DV Victims Reluctant to Come Forward?

Domestic violence is often known as a "secret crime" because many victims do not report an intimate partner to law enforcement because they don't want them to face criminal prosecution, especially when they have children.

Why Are Domestic Violence Victims Reluctant to Come Forward?

Nobody has the right to abuse another person, especially in the same home. Victims of domestic violence have the right to seek justice, but none of them will come forward and report what's happened to them to the police.

Often, the reluctance of victims to come forward is due to fear of retaliation, or they might feel intimidated and sometimes fear for their lives. In other cases, their reluctance is out of a sense of shame, loyalty, or love for an abusive spouse.

Often, they are reluctant to report domestic violence because the abuser is the father of their children in the household. Sometimes, the victim might not be aware that they are being abused because it happens gradually over time and eventually becomes routine.

Domestic violence is an offense that could involve substantial emotional stress and mental anguish. Thus, it's often challenging to make seemingly straightforward decisions. Sometimes, DV victims don't always see a way forward or know precisely what they should do, even with advice from friends and family.

Domestic violence can pose challenges for victims who are often reluctant to come forward immediately due to fear, pressure, or the complexities of their situations.

What is Senate Bill 273?

The California legislature enacted SB 273 in 2020. This landmark law made significant changes to domestic violence laws, including extending the statute of limitations to five years for all domestic violence crimes, regardless of whether they would be considered misdemeanors or felonies.

SB 273 says, "This bill would authorize prosecution for that crime to be commenced within five years. The bill would apply to crimes committed on or after January 1, 2020, and to crimes for which the statute of limitations that was in effect before January 1, 2020, has not run as of January 1, 2020. By extending the statute of limitations indefinitely, under certain circumstances, for a crime, the bill would impose a state-mandated local program."

This extension provides alleged victims with a longer period to make the difficult decision to pursue criminal charges against their alleged abusers. It gives the district attorney (DA) additional time to decide whether criminal charges are appropriate.

SB 273 also expanded the definition of domestic violence, and alleged victims can now seek protective orders in response to patterns of abuse beyond physical violence. Simply put, this became law on January 1, 2020, extending when a domestic violence case can be filed.

What are Some of the Implications of the New SOL?

Under SB 273, the primary motivation is to empower victims of domestic violence with a more extended period to come forward and report it. Consider the following:

  • There are many complexities and emotional challenges victims face in coming forward to report incidents of domestic violence.
  • This law gives victims a broader window to seek justice and protection.
  • Victims often delay reporting such incidents due to fear, psychological trauma, financial dependence, or the hope of reconciliation.
  • This law can also have negative implications for the accused.
  • This law can create more difficulties for people who are falsely or unfairly accused of domestic violence.
  • This can impact various aspects of life, including personal relationships, employment opportunities, and overall social standing.
  • The extended SOL means that allegations can surface and lead to criminal legal proceedings years after the alleged incident.
  • Due to the extended time, exculpatory evidence might diminish and witness memories fade.
  • There are many documented cases of false domestic violence accusations that occur out of anger after a relationship breakup or during divorce proceedings in a child custody battle.

What is the Role of a Domestic Violence Lawyer?

The new domestic violence statute of limitations in California enforces the apparent need for experienced legal representation to navigate the complexity of defending against older DV claims.

Suppose you have been accused of domestic violence, or if you believe you might be charged from an older incident. In that case, there are many advantages to hiring a Los Angeles domestic violence defense lawyer immediately, such as the following:

  • Guidance on Legal Options. A defense attorney can help you understand your legal rights and options clearly.
  • Preserve Evidence. A lawyer could investigate the alleged incident and take action to protect evidence that might exonerate you, such as saving video, audio, and text messages or recording eyewitness accounts while memories are fresh.
  • Develop a Defense Strategy. A skilled lawyer will create a comprehensive defense strategy based on all available evidence, possible witnesses, and legal precedents. This might involve challenging the validity of the accusations, negotiating plea deals, or fighting the charges.
  • Timeline Management. With the extended statute of limitations, managing all the legal deadlines while ensuring rights are not waived is crucial. A lawyer can keep track of these timelines and take steps to protect the client's interests.

For more information, contact our California criminal defense law firm, The Hedding Law Firm, based in Los Angeles, CA.

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About the Author

Ronald D. Hedding

What Makes Ronald Hedding Uniquely Qualified To Represent You? I've been practicing criminal defense for almost 30 years and have handled thousands of cases, including all types of state and federal sex crime cases. All consultations are discreet and confidential.