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Criminal Statute of Limitations in California

Posted in Criminal Defense on May 29, 2019

A criminal statute of limitations is a deadline by which prosecutors must file their charges against a suspect. States enforce statutes of limitations to keep the justice system fair for defendants. A deadline encourages swift filing on the prosecutor’s part, rather than giving them the option to wait until the potential destruction of evidence occurs. Different statutes of limitations apply to different types of crimes in California.

California Statute of Limitations Laws (PC 799)

California Penal Code Section 799 details the statute of limitations on criminal charges. The law is complex and comprehensive. It begins by listing the crimes that do not have statutes of limitations. The prosecution can take as long as it wants to press charges for these crimes, and begin their cases at any time.

  • Offenses that could lead to the death penalty
  • Offenses punishable by life in state prison or life without the possibility or parole
  • Offenses involving the embezzlement of public money
  • Offenses involving a minor defendant, in which the prosecutor could have requested a fitness hearing according to Section 707 of the Welfare and Institutions Code
  • Felony offenses involving substantial sexual conduct

Prosecutors can charge suspects with these crimes no matter how long ago they allegedly occurred. The law never bars the state of California from bringing a legal charge against someone for these types of offenses. For other crimes, however, prosecutors must act within the specific timeframe – or forever lose the right to file.

Offenses and Their Statutes of Limitations

Most states group crimes into a few broad categories. Then, they assign statutes of limitations to the categories rather than individual crimes. California legislation, however, has different time limits for many specified crimes.

  • 10 years: Offenses involving producing child pornography.
  • 10 years: Failure to register as a sexual offender after conviction.
  • Six years: Offenses punishable with eight or more years’ imprisonment.
  • Five years: Elder abuse and other crimes against elders or dependent adults (other than theft or embezzlement).
  • Four years: Offenses involving fraud, breach of fiduciary obligation, theft/embezzlement of an elder, or misconduct of a public officer or employee.
  • Three years: Offenses punishable by imprisonment.
  • Three years: Certain offenses committed against a minor under age 14.
  • Two years: Sexual crimes by a therapist or physician against a patient.
  • One year: Misdemeanor offenses.

Most statutes of limitations begin on the date the defendant allegedly committed the crime. It can be difficult to understand the exact statute of limitations for a specific criminal case without a criminal defense attorney’s help. California law also has a lot of exceptions to the general rule that could grant prosecutors more time to file their charges.

Exceptions to the Rule

California’s numerous exceptions to the general statutes of limitations makes these deadlines even more difficult to comprehend as a defendant. Many different crimes and specific circumstances may qualify as exceptions to the rule.

  • If a rape case involving a minor uses DNA evidence, the courts will toll or eliminate the statute of limitations.
  • Certain felony sex crimes against minor victims may come to light any time before the victim’s 28th
  • If the defendant is out of the state, the courts may toll the deadline up to three additional years.
  • A pending case against the defendant or a delayed discovery of the offense could both extend the statute of limitations.
  • Some misdemeanor crimes relating to violations of the Business and Professions Code have specific statutes of limitations.
  • A case involving forged or false records in public office can have longer statutes of limitations.

These are not the only exceptions to California’s criminal statutes of limitations. Work with a local criminal defense lawyer to understand the deadline in your specific case. Proving that the prosecution filed the charge after the statute of limitations passed is a strong defense to criminal charges.