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Statute of Limitations

Statute of Limitations for California Crimes

The statute of limitations (SOL) in California is the length of time during which a District Attorney (DA) can file criminal charges against you. If the deadline expires, the DA cannot prosecute you. The SOL varies based on the type of case and the specific offense. 

The California criminal statute of limitations typically includes one year for misdemeanors and three years for felonies. Still, there are situations where more time is allowed, and there is no SOL for some crimes, such as Penal Code 187 PC murder and Penal Code 261 PC rape.

Statute of Limitations for California Crimes
The statute of limitations is the length of time during which a prosecutor can file charges.

If a felony offense is punishable by eight or more years in prison, then the statute of limitations is six years. Violent felony crimes typically have longer statutes of limitations. 

Crimes against elderly or dependent adults are five years. Corporal injury to a spouse is also five years. Most felony sex crimes requiring sex offender registration are ten years.

Simply put, the statute of limitations establishes the maximum time limit within which the government can prosecute a criminal case. SOL ensures fairness and motivates prosecutors to investigate criminal matters promptly because evidence can be lost and memories fade.

Prosecution” occurs when the DA files an information or indictment, you are arraigned on a felony complaint, or they file a complaint for a misdemeanor. It could also occur when the judge issues a bench or arrest warrant against you.

Sometimes, the statutes of limitations are “tolled” (suspended), allowing the government additional time to bring a case against you. Under California law, there are set time limits for most offenses, various exceptions, and tolling rules.

Suppose the DA charges you a crime after the applicable time has passed. In that case, your defense lawyer can bring the matter to the judge's attention and dismiss the case. The Discovery Rule is used to determine when the clock starts to run.  

What is the Statute of Limitations in Criminal Cases?  

California has several Penal Codes covering the statutes of limitations, including PC 799-802. As noted, the SOL is generally one year for misdemeanors, which are crimes punishable by up to one year in county jail, such as Vehicle Code 213152 VC DUI

There are exceptions for misdemeanors, such as Penal Code 647.6 PC annoying or molesting a child at three years. Also, California's Business and Professions Code offenses range from one to four years.

The SOL for felonies is generally three years. These crimes are punishable by time in state prison, such as Penal Code 459 PC burglary. The clock starts running once the alleged crime occurs. 

Some of the most severe crimes have no statute of limitations, meaning the prosecutor may bring charges against someone at any time.  Let's look at more details below.

What is the Statute of Limitations for Misdemeanors? 

California typically has a one-year statute of limitations on misdemeanors as defined under Penal Code 802(a) PC, including the following: 

  • Vehicle Code 23152 VC – driving under the influence,
  • Vehicle Code 20002 VC – misdemeanor hit and run,
  • Penal Code 602 PC – trespassing,
  • Penal Code 647(b) – prostitution,
  • Penal Code 484 PC – petty theft,
  • Health and Safety Code 11350 HS – drug possession.

What is the Statute of Limitations for Felonies?

California Penal Code 801 PC says that apart from crimes that fall into other statutes, the SOL for felonies is three years, such as the following crimes:

Which Crimes Have No Statute of Limitations? 

California Penal Code 799 PC says some crimes have NO limitation. This means a prosecutor can file charges regardless of how much time has passed. These crimes include the following: 

  • Penal Code 187 PC – murder,
  • Penal Code 209 PC – aggravated kidnapping,
  • Penal Code 37 PC – treason,
  • Penal Code 261 PC – rape,
  • Penal Code 264.1 PC – aiding or abetting rape,
  • Penal Code 287 PC – oral copulation,
  • Penal Code 288 PC – lewd acts with a minor,
  • Penal Code 288.5 PC - continuous sexual abuse of a minor,
  • Embezzlement of public money,
  • Any crime that carries the death penalty or life in prison without parole.

What are the Exceptions?

As noted, there are exceptions to the three-year statute of limitations for felonies, such as the following: 

  • There is a three-year statute of limitations for wobblers that can be filed as either a misdemeanor or felony crime.
  • There is a four-year SOL for fraud cases, public official or employee misconduct, and embezzlement against elderly or dependent adults.
  • There is a five-year statute of limitations for California Penal Code 273.5 PC corporal injury on spouse or cohabitant.
  • There is a six-year SOL for felony crimes punishable by eight years or more in state prison, such as PC 211 first-degree robbery and PC 451 arson.
  • There is a ten-year SOL for felony sex crimes that requires sex offender registration or failing to register as a sex offender under Penal Code 290 PC.
  • The deadline to prosecute for certain child sex crimes is the alleged victim's 40th birthday. Sometimes, where the SOL has already started, prosecutors are allowed one year to file charges if DNA evidence is discovered.

Further, in California, there are many variances in how long the statute of limitations may be for an offense, such as the following: 

  • Ten years for failing to register as a sex offender after a conviction for a crime related to producing child pornography.
  • Five years for any elderly or dependent adult crimes, not including theft and embezzlement.
  • Four years for crimes of theft, fraud, embezzlement, or breach of trust with an elder, or misconduct by a public official or employee
  • Three years for specific crimes committed against a minor younger than 14.
  • Two years for sex crimes by a therapist or doctor on a patient. 

When Does the Clock Start Running? 

The Discovery Rule determines when the clock starts for the statute of limitations. Time begins when a crime is discovered, not when it occurred. This could be months or longer after committing the crime, especially in fraud-related cases.

Suppose you are a California criminal case suspect and out of state. In that case, the statute of limitations can be paused (tolled) for up to three years.

Suppose the statutory period has passed when you are charged with a crime in California. In that case, your criminal defense lawyer can file a motion to dismiss in court, typically as a demurrer motion at the arraignment phase.

If you or a family member needs legal assistance with any stage of a criminal investigation or court process, contact our California criminal defense lawyers for a free case evaluation. Cron, Israels & Stark has offices in Los Angeles, CA.

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