Legal Dictionary

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Statute of Limitations

In criminal law, the Statute of Limitations is a law establishing a time frame for prosecuting a crime, based on when the crime occurred or was discovered, whichever is later. For most crimes, the statute begins to run when the crime is committed. If a criminal prosecution was not initiated within the specific time period provided by the applicable Statute of Limitations and the statute has not been tolled (extended), then criminal proceedings must be terminated and dismissed.

California Statute of Limitations

The general rules below apply to most criminal charges. One rule of thumb is that the more serious the crime, the longer the limitations time period.

  • Offenses punishable by death or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole; embezzlement of public money; or cases where the defendant is a minor and the prosecutor could have petitioned the court for a fitness hearing pursuant to Section 707 of the Welfare and Institutions Code may be commenced and prosecuted at any time. There is no time limit for these offenses,
  • Offenses punishable by eight years or more of state prison must be commenced within six years after the commission of the offense, unless otherwise specified by the statute.
  • Prosecution for most other felony offenses punishable by three years of state prison must be commenced within three years after commission of the offense.
  • Offenses involving the production of child pornography must be commenced within 10 years after the commission of the offense.
  • Offenses involving elders and dependent adults (except for embezzlement or theft) have a five year Statute of Limitations.
  • Sexual Offenses by a physician or therapist involving a patient have a two year Statute of Limitations.
  • Offenses involving fraud, breach of fiduciary obligation, theft or embezzlement on an elder or dependent adult, and misconduct in public office have a four year Statute of Limitations from date of discovery or date of the offense.
  • Misdemeanor offenses have a one year Statute of Limitations.

There are numerous exceptions, legal wrinkles, and tolling provisions in California to the above rules. Consult with a knowledgeable California criminal defense attorney for additional information or check California Penal Code sections 799 to 803 for the California Statute of Limitations.