While the criminal justice system was designed to prosecute crimes swiftly, and the sixth amendment guarantees a right to a speedy trial, the world doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes it can take prosecutors months or years to gather evidence regarding a case; other times, witnesses may hesitate to speak up. In the interim, the defendant waits with uncertainty, not knowing if or when charges may be brought up.
And during the ensuing years, memories fray, details become forgotten, and evidence goes missing. Because of this potential for degradation of evidence, the law sets a certain time limit for prosecuting crimes, known as the “statute of limitations.”
Think of this statute of limitations like a shot clock in basketball – once a crime has occurred, the ball is in the prosecution’s court. If they don’t take their shot and formally charge someone within the allotted time, they lose the ability to. This important aspect of the law is not only designed to ensure the integrity of a criminal trial, but also to protect citizens from the fear of being charged with a crime that occurred long ago.
If you believe you are being investigated for a crime, regardless of how long ago it occurred, the most important thing to do is remain cautious. The uncertainty and anxiety of waiting to learn what charges, if any, will be brought against you may lead you to act impulsively or unwittingly share damaging information. Because of this, the next most important thing to do is contact an attorney.
Involving your attorney early in the process can help you navigate the treacherous legal process, can protect you from inadvertently hurting your case, and act as a buffer against law enforcement interrogation.
Statute of Limitations, Explained
There are some crimes under Georgia law, carry no statute of limitations. No matter how much time has passed you can still be prosecuted for murder or certain major crimes in which DNA evidence plays a factor. Certain crimes against victims under the age of 16 (if committed after July 1st, 2012) also have no statute of limitations, such as sex trafficking, molestation and incest.
Otherwise, the statute of limitations is set on a charge-by-charge basis. For example, the following crimes carry a statute of limitations of:
- Most misdemeanor crimes: 2 years
- Most felony crimes: 4 years
- Murder: No time limit
- Voluntary Manslaughter victim over 18:4 years
- Voluntary Manslaughter victim under 18:7 years
- Forcible Rape without DNA, victim over 16:15 years
- Armed Robbery without DNA:7 years
Federal Statute of Limitations
Federal criminal statutes of limitations establish time limits for initiating criminal prosecutions in federal cases. The specific limitations vary based on the nature of the crime; for instance, capital offenses and certain terrorism cases have no time limit, while most non-capital felonies carry a five-year statute of limitations. In some cases, involving child victims, the statute of limitations can be for the life of the child.
Evoking the Statute of Limitations
It often falls to the defense to make the judge or court aware when the statute of limitations has passed. And even if the statute of limitations has run out, failure to assert it as a defense may render it meaningless, allowing for the prosecution to continue.
When a defendant or their attorney attempts to evoke the statute of limitations, they must provide evidence illustrating the amount of time lapsed since the accused crime. If successful, the charges can be dismissed.
Being Investigated for a Crime
If you’re under investigation for a crime but haven’t been formally charged, there are multiple strategies to persuade the prosecution that there isn’t sufficient evidence for an accusation, potentially leading to the dismissal of the allegations. Being investigated doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll face formal charges. An attorney can intervene early in the process, filing motions and providing evidence to support your innocence. Preventing charges from being filed is often more cost-effective than enduring a full jury trial.
The Best Preparation Leads to the Best Outcomes
No matter what you’ve been accused of, the best defense is a comprehensive strategy based on thorough research, deep knowledge of the facts, evidence, and circumstances of the case. This preparation allows your attorney to unearth any mistakes that may have been made on the part of law enforcement or accusers, create reasonable doubt surrounding the charges, and achieve the outcome that you seek. Explore the many options that you may have not considered by scheduling a free, no-obligation case evaluation with the Busbee Law Group.