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Last Updated on: 20th October 2023, 04:42 pm
Trying to understand statutes of limitations on federal crimes can be really confusing. As a defense lawyer, I get asked about this a lot by my clients who are facing federal charges. The best way to think about it is that statutes of limitations set deadlines for prosecutors to file charges for crimes. If the deadline passes, the person can’t be charged for that crime anymore.
But – and this is a big but – there is no statute of limitations for many serious federal crimes. So for those charges, the prosecutor can file them at any time, even many years later. Let me break it down into more detail…
For most federal crimes, there is a 5-year statute of limitations. That means the prosecutor has 5 years from the date the crime was committed to file charges. If they don’t do it in that timeframe, too bad – the case has to be dropped because the statute of limitations has “run out.”
Some examples of federal crimes with a 5-year statute of limitations are:
But now for the big exception: There is no statute of limitations for federal crimes punishable by death, or for certain federal crimes punishable by life imprisonment. So for those, charges can be filed at any time. This includes things like:
The reason these very serious crimes don’t have statutes of limitations is because Congress decided they are so bad, prosecutors should always have the ability to charge them no matter how long it’s been.
Another important thing to understand is when the statute of limitations clock starts running. For federal crimes, the clock generally starts on the date the crime was actually committed.
But there are exceptions. For fraud crimes, the clock may not start until the fraud is discovered or should have been discovered. And sometimes the clock is paused if the person flees prosecution or there are delays in getting evidence from other countries. So it can get complicated.
The bottom line is that calculating the statute of limitations deadline depends on the specific crime and circumstances. That’s why it’s so important to have an experienced federal criminal defense lawyer help figure it out.
There is one other way prosecutors can essentially stop the clock on the statute of limitations. It’s through something called a “tolling agreement.” This is an agreement between the prosecutor and the defense lawyer to temporarily pause the statute of limitations.
These agreements are pretty common when both sides want more time to investigate or negotiate a potential plea deal. The agreements are usually for 6 months or 1 year at a time. They have to be in writing and signed by both parties.
Tolling agreements can be risky though. Defendants should be careful about signing them without fully understanding the consequences. An experienced federal criminal defense lawyer can provide guidance on whether a tolling agreement makes sense or not.
If you or a loved one are facing potential federal charges, having an attorney analyze the statute of limitations is extremely important. Based on the type of crime, when it occurred, and the circumstances, the statute may have already expired and prevent prosecution.
But you can’t just rely on your own analysis – getting experienced legal counsel is critical. Federal statutes of limitations are complex. An attorney who specializes in federal criminal defense will know all the ins and outs and can make sure charges get dismissed if the statute has run out.
Don’t take chances. Get an expert federal criminal defense lawyer on your side immediately if federal charges may be forthcoming. Having the statute of limitations properly evaluated could make all the difference in the outcome of your case.
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