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Statute of Limitations in Criminal Cases

An inmate at a Florida prison was recently extradited to California to face charges in a series of “cold” sexual-assault cases going as far back as 2008. (A “cold case” is one where investigators have no leads to help them identify and capture a suspect.) The man was serving 20 years in a Florida correctional institution when he was extradited back to Orange County, California where he faces charges stemming from three separate sexual assaults. When the man was convicted of kidnapping and sexual assault in Florida in 2011, he was ordered to provide law enforcement with a DNA sample. When this sample was uploaded, the man’s DNA profile returned as a “match” to the DNA profile collected in one of the California assault cases.

Is There a Statute of Limitations for Criminal Charges?

If you have ever been a plaintiff in a civil case such as a car accident injury lawsuit or a slip and fall lawsuit, you may have heard lawyers referencing the “statute of limitations.” In essence, the statute of limitations describes the amount of time you as a plaintiff have to file your lawsuit. If the statute of limitations expires before you file a lawsuit, then you generally are unable to pursue a lawsuit for your injuries at all. The statute of limitations is designed to ensure that legal disputes are brought quickly so that (1) evidence is still available; (2) witnesses still remember the event; and (3) a potential defendant’s personal and business affairs are not put on hold indefinitely in anticipation of a lawsuit that might never materialize. But are there any similar statutes of limitations for criminal offenses?

Suppose the man in the story was facing charges out of Florida, not California. Florida law imposes the following time restrictions on the prosecution:

  • A prosecution for a first degree felony must begin within four years after the felony is committed;
  • Any other felony must be prosecuted within three years after the commission of the felony;
  • A prosecution for a first degree misdemeanor must begin within two years after the crime is committed; and
  • Any other misdemeanor or noncriminal offense must be prosecuted within one year after the offense is committed.

Just like the statutes of limitations in civil cases, prosecutions that are not timely commenced are barred and cannot proceed forward.

Limitations and Exceptions

It should be noted, however, that this same Florida statute that sets out the statutes of limitations for criminal offenses contains a number of limitations and exceptions that operate to increase or toll the applicable statute of limitations. Suffice it to say that had the man been facing charges in Florida related to a 2008 cold case that he was just recently linked to because of DNA evidence, the charges would likely be able to proceed.

It is important to have a criminal defense attorney review your case if you are facing charges from several years ago to ensure your rights under the statute of limitations are respected and protected.

The law office of Jeffrey S. Weiner, P.A. represents criminal defendants charged with crimes in the State of Florida. Contact the office today by calling (305) 670-9919 or contacting the office online for assistance.

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