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Statute of Limitations

If there is one thing that can slide by both the defendant’s attorney and the prosecutor it is the statute of limitations. Did you know that there is a statute of limitations that exists on all but the most serious of federal crimes? Yes it is true. All federal offenses except capital offenses, offenses involving terrorism, sex offenses involving a child, etc., have a set time limit when formal charges must be filed or else the offense can no longer be prosecuted. This allotment of time is generally five years from the date of the commission of the offense. The federal statute of limitations is 18 U.S.C. 3282, and it provides the following:

“Except as otherwise expressly provided by law, no person shall be prosecuted, tried, or punished for any offense, not capital, unless the indictment is found or the information is instituted within five years next after such offense shall have been committed.”

Certain other offenses have longer time limits as set forth by 18 U.S.C. 3282. Tax offenses generally have a six year time period before they can no longer be prosecuted, and offenses consisting of major fraud (i.e., crimes against the government involving $1,000,000 or more) have a ten year limitation. Offenses committed against banks and financial institutions also carry with them a ten year statute of limitations. Additionally, the statute of limitations for immigration offenses has been increased from five to ten years.

I have been approached by more than one individual while incarcerated who told me that the next time they are prosecuted for a federal offense that they would leave the U.S. and live abroad for five years and then come back. They thought that they would then be protected by the statute of limitations. While this sounded like an interesting plan, it was completely lacking in any research. The interesting list below also contains an indefinite statute of limitations to bring charges forth:

  • Escape from federal custody. 18 U.S.C. 751.
  • Flight to avoid prosecution. 18 U.S.C. 1073.
  • Failure to report for sentencing. 18 U.S.C. 3146(a).
  • Re-entering the United States illegally after deportation. 8 U.S.C. 1326(a).
  • Possession of counterfeit money. 18 U.S.C. 472.
  • Regardless of the offense, a person who is a fugitive from justice is not protected by any statute of limitations for that offense. 18 U.S.C. 3290.

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Consequently, it is often it is not the main concern of the defendant’s attorney to check the statute of limitations on each and every charge, therefore a case with a close statute of limitations may go by unnoticed if the defendant himself does not identify the problem. Don’t expect the government to jump forward and let a defendant know about any possible statute of limitations problem either. It would ruin their chances to prosecute that individual.

Having some general knowledge about the amount of time that has passed since the conviction of prior offenses is crucial for any defendant. The statute of limitations for a particular offense begins running when the commission of the said offense has been completed. For example, if a defendant embezzled money from his company and the statute of limitations for the offense was seven years, then the government would have seven years from the date when the embezzlement offense was complete to bring forth charges. If that defendant continued to embezzle money after the initial act, then the statute of limitations would reset and start to run from the beginning again using the most recent commission of the act as the starting point. Any overacts of a particular offense can also reset the statute of limitations such as when an art thief, who stole million of dollars worth of art twenty years prior, decides to sell some of the stolen art at a later date. This would also reset the statute of limitations back to the beginning.

Nonetheless, there have been many federal cases where the defendant walked away untouched due to the amount of time that had gone since the commission of an alleged offense. It is important for anyone being prosecuted for a crime from several tears prior contact a qualified attorney to determine if a possible statute of limitations applies. The statute of limitations defense must be announced before the start of a trial or the prosecution would be allowed to continue with the trial. To prevail on a statute of limitations defense, the defendant must show that the date of filing of the criminal complaint, information or indictment by the grand jury was beyond the applicable time limit of the statute.


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