A common question I’m asked is “how long do the police have to arrest me after I’ve committed a crime.” A better question to ask is “how long does the DA’s office have to charge me with the crime.” And the answer to that, like so many other questions is: “it depends.” It depends mostly on the type of crime a person has committed, but whether the victim was a minor at the time of the offense can also affect this legal deadline, called the statute of limitations. The various statutes of limitation for crimes committed in California are defined in Penal Code sections 799-805.
We have statutes of limitation to ensure the DA’s office files charges in a timely manner, when evidence should be more easily available and the events are more fresh in the minds of any witnesses, so that the defendant gets the most fair trial possible. In general, once the statute of limitations period for a case has run, the DA’s office can no longer file charges.
Of course, there are very serious crimes for which there is no statute of limitations: Murder, treason, and embezzlement of public funds.
From there, a general rule of thumb is that most felonies (except those that are especially serious or sexual crimes committed against children,) have a statute of limitations of three years, and most misdemeanors have a statute of limitations of one year. (An “especially serious” felony is generally one in which the maximum punishment is eight or more years in custody.) For most crimes the statute of limitations begins to run at the time of the offense is committed.
In order to protect the most vulnerable segment of our community—the elderly, minors, and those who are dependent on others for their daily needs—the law allows for longer statutes of limitations. For example, some crimes which involve violent, sexual acts committed against minors have statutes of limitations which do not run until the victim has turned 40 years old. A lot of crimes which involve elderly or dependent adult victims have statutes of limitations of 5 years. And for some crimes which involve a higher degree of trickery or fraud the statute of limitations may not even begin running until the crime has been discovered.
Devina strives to make information relevant to the lives of her clients easily accessible.