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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.

When Does the Statute-of-Limitations Clock Start and Stop?

In general, the statute of limitations for a crime starts when the crime was allegedly committed. However, there are some circumstances in which it is difficult to discover the crime or when a victim may be particularly afraid to come forward and report it. There are also cases, particularly concerning sex crimes involving a minor, when the prosecution will have more time to file charges against an alleged perpetrator.

Crimes Without a Statute of Limitations

There are various crimes in California that do not have any statutes of limitations attached. This means that prosecutors will be able to bring charges against an alleged perpetrator at any time. The following charges have no time limit attached in California:

  • Murder in the first degree
  • Rape involving force or violence
  • Aggravated sexual assault of a child
  • Embezzlement of public money
  • Treason

If you were accused of any of these crimes, contact a Riverside criminal defense attorney. We will protect your rights and fight for your freedom.

Civil vs. Criminal Statutes of Limitations

It is important to point out that there is a difference between criminal and civil statutes of limitations. In many instances, a person can face a civil lawsuit for actions they allegedly committed even after the criminal statute of limitations has expired for the crime in question. Civil lawsuits are typically filed by victims of an alleged crime, while criminal charges are filed by prosecutors. The criminal statute of limitations and civil statute of limitations often differ dramatically.

Criminal Statute of Limitations Index

Some of the criminal statutes of limitations for crimes committed in California are as follows:

  • Rape: Prosecution may be commenced at any time for cases involving force or violence.
  • Spousal Rape: Prosecution may be commenced at any time for cases involving force or violence. If you were accused of abuse, contact a Riverside domestic violence lawyer today for a free consultation.
  • Aggravated Sexual Assault of Child: Prosecution for this crime may be commenced anytime following the incident.
  • Lewd or Lascivious Acts Involving Children: Prosecution for these crimes must generally be commenced at any time prior to the victim’s 40th birthday. For these crimes, more time is given to account for the fact that the child may not realize they have been assaulted until later in life.
  • Burglary: Prosecution must bring felony burglary charges within three years the date of the incident. The prosecution must bring misdemeanor burglary charges within one year from the date of the incident. Visit our burglary lawyer page for more information.
  • Manslaughter: Prosecution has up to six years after the alleged incident to prosecute a person for any crime that carries a sentence of eight years or more in prison. This would include various manslaughter charges. Please note that not all manslaughter charges carry a sentence of eight years or more.
  • Theft (Larceny): Prosecution must bring misdemeanor theft charges within one year from the date of the alleged incident. The prosecution must bring felony theft charges within three years of the alleged incident. Visit our Riverside Theft attorney informational page if you’d like to learn more about possible defenses for your charges.
  • Disorderly Conduct: Prosecution must bring disorderly conduct charges within one year from the date of the alleged incident.