Everyone has heard the term “statute of limitations,” and most people have a vague idea of how the concept works, but the specifics of these laws are important to understand if you have been accused of a crime. Criminal lawyer Peter M. Liss is here to help you get a better understanding of the statute of limitations in California for criminal charges.
The basic concept of statute of limitations is that with a few exceptions, you can’t punish someone for a crime they committed long ago. For example, if a politician talks about threatening a rival twenty years ago, he can’t be charged for assault because the statute of limitations has passed.
There are some crimes that have no statute of limitations in California though, most notably, murder, which is why police often reopen cold cases when they find new evidence years after a murder has been committed. There are also no statute of limitations for crimes of embezzlement of public funds, for capital offenses and for crimes that carry a potential sentence of life imprisonment without parole. Rape also has no statute of limitations in California, but since this law changed in 2017, this only applies to rapes that took place after that date although aggravated rape still had no statute of limitations prior to that. If you aren’t sure if a crime qualifies as one of these exceptions, an attorney can answer specific questions about the statute of limitations applies.
Other than those exceptions, most felonies with a maximum sentence of eight or more years in prison carry a six year statute of limitations. Felonies that carry prison terms of three or fewer years carry a three year statute of limitations. Most misdemeanor cases have a one year statute of limitations. There are exceptions to all of these crimes in cases involving elders, children or dependent adults. Again, if you have any questions about a specific case, please ask your criminal lawyer.
So assuming you know the statute of limitations of a crime, the next issue is when does the clock start ticking? Again, this isn’t as clear cut as it would seem. In most cases, the statute of limitations begins counting from the time the victim was harmed. But in some cases, the victim might not realize he or she was harmed for years to come. In some cases, this means the clock will start ticking years later when the victim realized she was harmed and in other cases, it might start ticking when she should have realized she was harmed. Additionally, in cases where the victim is a minor, the clock won’t start ticking until he or she turns eighteen. This part of the statute of limitations laws gets particularly complex and sometimes a defense lawyer will be able to help you argue that the statute should have run out earlier.
For example, if a person discovers that his company had been embezzled from ten years after the embezzlement took place, the clock could start ticking at that time. But, if the defendant’s attorney discovered that an accountant notified the victim that the numbers in his books were off over nine years ago, then it could be argued that the victim should have realized he was harmed at that time.
Even if the charges are filed within the proper time period, you can still argue a late filing violated your speedy trial rights.
While most statute of limitations in California for criminal charges may seem straight forward, the reality is that they can be anything but. If you believe you might be guilty of a crime, or if you have been accused of a crime, but think the California statute of limitations might have run out or be almost out, please call (760) 643-4050 to discuss your case with Peter M. Liss.
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