Criminal Statute of Limitations: State Charge Time Limits

When the police and prosecutors bring criminal charges against an individual in Florida, the balance of power between the two sides of the case is extremely tilted in favor of the state. The government has almost unlimited financial and manpower resources to call on for the prosecution. But the accused must defend themselves with the help of the best criminal defense lawyer available. 


An important safeguard that protects the individual in the American legal system is the “statute of limitations.” These are laws that prohibit the state from charging someone with a crime if too many years have passed since the events occurred. 



Why Do Statutes of Limitations Exist? 


Statutes of limitations were established to prevent someone from being accused of a crime so long after the time of the crime that they can’t reasonably defend against the charge. Over time, witnesses to the events forget details, move away, become ill, or die. The physical evidence that could be essential for the defense could also be long gone. 


The scene of the crime can undergo massive changes or be destroyed. Eyewitnesses can’t be found because too much time has passed to identify them. 


The law also favors a sense of finality. It is unfair to allow people to be plucked from their lives and accused of committing a crime in the distant past. 


Florida’s statute of limitations for most crimes falls under these time limitations: 

  • First-Degree Felonies – Four years from the date of the crime 
  • Second-Degree Felonies – Three years from the date of the crime 
  • Third-Degree Felonies – Three years from the date of the crime 
  • First-Degree Misdemeanors – Two years from the date of the crime 
  • Second-Degree Misdemeanors – One year from the date of the crime 
  • Violations – One year from the date of the violation 


Exceptions – Crimes with No Statute of Limitation and Longer Times 


  • Capital offenses (penalty either death or life in prison) – No Statute of Limitation 
  • If DNA later identifies suspect – No Statute of Limitation  


Some offenses are so grave and their prosecution so important to ensure the safety of the community and the administration of justice that there is no limit on the time in which criminal charges can be filed. In these cases, the law recognizes that the individual’s interests in finality, in knowing that they are safe from prosecution, are far outweighed by the need for justice. 


Many of the capital offenses for which there is no statute of limitation can take years to investigate. In the past several years, we’ve seen that only the development of advanced DNA testing has delivered the evidence necessary to identify the perpetrators of some crimes. This technology did not exist when many of the crimes were committed. 


Florida also provides for longer statutes of limitations for certain crimes: 


  • Perjury in an official proceeding has no statute of limitation. 
  • Felony injury to a person by use of a destructive device – 10 years 
  • Medicaid and social assistance fraud – 5 years 
  • Certain Environmental crimes – 5 years 
  • Abuse or Exploitation of Elder or Disabled Person – 5 years 
  • Several crimes involving financial crimes that may not be discovered immediately may be prosecuted within 1 year of discovery under F.S. 775.15(12)(a) 
  • Video voyeurism – 1 year after discovery 



Tolling the Statute of Limitations 


“Tolling” of the statute of limitations means that the clock is paused temporarily. The most common circumstance in which a statute of limitation is tolled is when the individual has fled or is absent from the state and is somewhere beyond the reach of the law enforcement agency.  


The law does not encourage people who commit crimes to benefit by fleeing and hiding until the clock runs out for prosecutors. So, by fleeing the jurisdiction, the law pauses the clock. 


However, the clock doesn’t stop forever.  


Florida law allows a statute of limitations to be extended for a definite number of years after the normal statutory time expires, but no further.  


In Florida, when a statute of limitations is extended due to a defendant’s absence or other reason not reasonably attributable to the prosecution, the extension of time will only last an additional three years. 


Indictment, Information, or Arrest Warrant Satisfies the Statute of Limitations 


That statute of limitations does not expire if the state has filed an indictment or criminal information charging document against the suspected perpetrator if the government took reasonable steps to locate the defendant and take them into custody. An arrest warrant will also toll the statute if the police can prove they were reasonably diligent in executing the warrant. 


An arrest warrant never goes away. It must be dealt with no matter how old it is.  


Complex Legal Issues Are Involved in Statutes of Limitations  


Despite the apparent simplicity of the statute of limitations, experienced criminal defense lawyers understand that these issues can involve very nuanced legal arguments. Like many aspects of the law, there are two sides to every argument and the law supplies plenty of support for both sides in most cases. 


What constitutes “diligence” by law enforcement when the statute of limitations depends on whether their actions to take the defendant into custody were reasonable? 


What delays are “reasonable delays?” 


Was the defendant hiding in another state or living in an open and easily identifiable location? 


Was the defendant in the state and not hiding at all when the police allowed an arrest warrant to sit on a shelf unexecuted for years? 


These and many other legal issues require a great deal of research, legal analysis, and courtroom experience to persuade the courts to rule in the defendant’s favor. 


Read More > How Long is the Statute of Limitations for Federal Crimes?  


Experienced Statute of Limitations Lawyers 


The Stechschulte Nell Law Firm in Tampa represents people accused of criminal offenses, calling on years of intensely focused courtroom experience. Every case presents its own set of unique facts and circumstances. 


When an inexperienced or inattentive attorney is retained by a criminal defendant, the client loses the advantages that a sharp, alert, smart defense attorney offers. Unfortunately, the law has punished many defendants whose lawyers did not realize the statute of limitations had run and neglected to move to dismiss the case. 


Once a conviction is obtained, if your attorney neglected to raise the issue of an expired statute of limitations, the argument is waived. As unjust as that result seems, it underscores the importance of getting the best, most experienced criminal defense lawyers to represent you in your criminal case. 


Contact Tampa’s Statute of Limitations Law Firm Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law for a case review today at 813-280-1244.  

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