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California Criminal Statute of Limitations

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What Are the Criminal Statutes of Limitations in California?

Statutes of limitations are common in criminal and civil cases across the US. The term refers to the laws that prescribe the maximum time limit within which an aggrieved party must initiate legal action against the opposing party.

Criminal statutes of limitations prescribe the timeframe within which the government, must initiate the prosecution of an accused person and file criminal charges. If the time limit elapses before prosecution begins, the charge becomes statute-barred and invalid unless certain exceptions apply.

Criminal statutes of limitations is important because they promote the speedy conclusion of criminal cases. When criminal cases take too long to begin, the delay may affect the quality of the evidence available. This makes it difficult for the prosecution to prove their case and for the accused to establish their innocence. Deciding on a case when the material evidence has been destroyed or distorted would likely lead to injustice. Hence criminal statutes of limitations make it mandatory to prosecute a criminal charge speedily or not at all.

Suppose you or your loved one are under investigation or facing criminal charges in California concerning an alleged offense that occurred a while ago. In that case, you might be able to rely on the California criminal statute of limitations in your defense. But the California Code prescribes different time limits for different types of crimes, so it is important that you understand the legal provisions in your case.

Below you can find details on the limitations periods for some common criminal offenses. If you need personalized information beyond the scope of this article, you may need to contact a skilled criminal defense attorney in California for help.

Common Criminal Offenses and Their Limitation Periods Under the California Code

The prescribed time limits to prosecute crimes under California criminal law varies depending on the severity of the crime, as shown below.

Statute of Limitations for California Felony Crimes

Felonies are the most serious crimes in California. They are punishable by imprisonment in state jail, heavy fines, and sometimes death.

The general statute of limitations for common felonies such as burglary, grand theft, or assault with a firearm is three years from the time of the crime.

However, where the penalty for a specific offense is imprisonment for eight years or more in state prison, the limitation period is extended to six years. Crimes in this category include:

  • First-degree robbery
  • Arson
  • Gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated
  • Kidnapping.

Other Statutes of Limitations for Felonies

California Law also prescribes different time limits for some felony crimes that do not fall within the above categories as follows:

  • For crimes such as medical fraud, grand theft or forgery by a public official, and embezzlement or theft from elderly or dependent adults, the limitation period is four years from when the incident was discovered. Other elder abuse crimes excluding embezzlement and theft, must be initiated within five years from when the offense occurred.
  • For sexual crimes and related offenses such as sexual assault, child pornography, or failure to register as a sex offender, the limitation period is ten years. This time limit could be extended if the victim was a minor when the crime was committed. In such cases, the prosecution can commence at any time before the victim’s 40th birthday.

Limitations Period for Misdemeanor Crimes

Misdemeanors are considered lesser crimes since the punishment for such crimes is not as severe as the punishment for felonies. Examples of some misdemeanor crimes in California include:

  • Petty theft
  • Possession of a controlled substance
  • Trespass
  • Some driving under the influence (DUI) offenses
  • Disturbing the peace.

The general time limit for prosecuting offenses in this category is one year. But there are some exceptions. For example, the offense of child molestation, when committed against a child of 14 years or less, has a three-year limitation period.

If you’re facing misdemeanor charges in California, you can contact a California misdemeanor attorney who can assess your case and determine whether the one-year limitation period for misdemeanors or any of the exceptions applies in your favor.

Crimes Without Limitation Periods

Under California law, some crimes do not have a limitation period and can be prosecuted at any time. The offenses in this category include:

  • Offenses punishable by death, such as treason and murder
  • Offenses punishable by life imprisonment in state prison (with or without the possibility of parole)
  • Embezzlement of public money.

When Time Starts to Count: California’s Discovery Rule

Generally, the limitation period starts to count from when the alleged offense was committed. But by the California discovery rule, the countdown for some offenses starts when the crime is discovered, even though a lot of time may have passed since the crime occurred.

This rule usually applies to offenses involving deception and secrecy, such as white-collar crimes. In such cases, the culprit would have taken steps to mask their activity making it difficult to determine when the crime actually occurred.

If your charge is one of such crimes, it may be difficult to rely on the statute of limitations in your defense unless you can establish the victim’s prior knowledge of the crime.

When Does Time Stop Counting?

By the California Code, prosecution begins when any of the following happens:

  • The prosecution files an indictment or information.
  • The prosecution files a complaint for a misdemeanor or infraction charge.
  • The prosecution arraigns the suspect on a felony complaint.
  • A judge issues an arrest warrant or bench warrant against the defendant. The warrant must name and describe the defendant with the same depth of information required for an indictment or complaint.

Once this happens (within the stipulated time), the clock stops ticking, and the statute of limitations for the specific offense will no longer apply. You may need to look to other legal defense strategies as you fight your charges.

Got Further Questions About California Criminal Statutes of Limitations? Contact Criminal Defense Attorneys at the Law Offices of Christopher Chaney

If you’re wondering whether the statute of limitations applies in your case or have other questions about your criminal defense, we can help at the Law Offices of Christopher Chaney.

At our law firm, we approach each case with a fresh, optimistic outlook, working through all possible options, from reducing your charges to defeating them altogether. Our experienced criminal defense lawyers can answer your questions and provide personalized legal advice and representation throughout your case.

Contact us immediately to get started with your defense.

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