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What is the Statute of Limitations?

The statute of limitations is the time limit set by the government to bring criminal charges to court. The plaintiff or the prosecutor must file the complaint within the time limit set. If they do not, then the defendant’s case will presumably be dismissed.

The prosecuting party or plaintiff has between the day the crime was committed to the last day of the statute of limitations. Not all crimes have the same time limit, some will have more or less depending on the crime committed.

Can the Statute of Limitations be Changed?

Changes in the limitations can happen by lawmakers and the limitation periods can change for either more or less time depending on the crime. In 2007, the Texas legislature changed the time limit for charging sexual assault on a child from a set number of years to no time limit at all.

Depending on the crime, the time extension is available to the crime if the crime is still on the clock. The new time will not apply if the prosecutor or plaintiff had already run out of time to file the charges before the change happened. This prevents prosecutors or plaintiffs from reviving a dead case.

When Does the Statute of Limitations Start?

In the State of Texas, the statute of limitations begins when the crime occurs. Although there are some exceptions to this, as it can be difficult to discover the crime or the plaintiff might be scared to report the crime. The state might delay the starting of the time for the statute of limitations.

For example, the time does not start for some crimes committed against children until they reach adulthood. These types of crimes include aggravating kidnapping, trafficking for forced labor or service or injury to a child. In the State of Texas, if a person tries to evade arrest, the state gives the prosecutor extra time to file charges. The statute of limitations is then tolled while the defendant is away from the state.

What is Tolling?

There is such a thing as a “tolled” or pause on a statute of limitation. This is when the statute of limitations gets legally suspended and the clock will stop for a specific amount of time the judge decides on. Tolling can also happen during the time a defendant is waiting for an indictment, which can be stressful to the defendant as they are in limbo about their charge status.

An indictment presented is considered when it has been duly acted upon by the grand jury and has been received by the courts. Also, information is deemed as presented when it has been filed by the proper officer in the proper court.

Tolling also commonly occurs when the defendant becomes a fugitive from the jurisdiction where the crime was committed. For example, if an individual was to rob a store in Texas and then fled to New Mexico, then six years later he or she was pulled over and the police realize they have a warrant on that person. The statute of limitations would have been on pause the entire time, so even though it was six years later, that person could still be charged with robbery.

How Long Can a Charge be Pending

Once a crime is filed, the statute of limitation is then tolled; this allows the prosecution to not be barred by the passing of time and can make the statute of limitations feel indefinite. This can be difficult for the defendant, as he or she is just waiting in custody either to be indicted, for some information to allow them to post bail or bond or for the charge to be presented. Even the formation of a grand jury or the start of the indictment process does not stop tolling, only the proceeding of the charges can stop the tolling. For some crimes that are not specified in the statute of limitations, the grand jury has approximately five years to indict the accused if it is a federal crime they are being charged with. Although, if the defendant is arrested and he or she is out on bond, the prosecution party has up to 180 days to secure an indictment.

Why are There Time Limits on Crimes?

The main purpose of the statute of limitations is to protect the integrity of the evidence and to ensure the convictions are based upon evidence that has not deteriorated over the span of time. Evidence like eyewitnesses can forget important details or aspects of the crime as time goes on and physical evidence may degrade, be contaminated or be lost. This law also helps the defendant to be protected from being prosecuted unfairly. Also, the statute of limitations exists to provide a sense of balance for the plaintiff to come forward and also to give the defendant time to accrue evidence for their defense case.

In criminal law, there is a variation of the statute of limitations as it depends on the severity of the crime committed. Misdemeanors will have the lowest statutes starting at about two years statute, whereas some felonies may have up to three years or have no limitations.

No Limitation

These crimes have no statute of limitation, which signifies an individual can be charged with this type of crime at any point in time. These are felonies that can cause severe emotional and physical distress and because of that, Texas does not provide a limitation on those crimes. Some examples of these limitations are murder, manslaughter and sexual assault including aggravated sexual assault, sexual abuse of a child and compelling prostitution of a child under 18. This is just to list a few as the Texas Penal Code 12.01 has plenty more no limitations for others.

20 Years From a Child’s 18th Birthday

These limitations are more specific to when a child was a victim of a crime, such as any type of sexual performance done to the child, aggravated burglary and kidnapping both where there was the intention to commit sexual assault.

10 Years From a Child's 18th Birthday

The crimes that follow under this statute are human trafficking of a child with the intent of forced labor or services. Or if the individual that trafficked the child reaps any type of benefit from participating in the activity or there was an injury caused to a child or bigamy, and the child is under the age of 18.

10 Year Limitations

Crimes like theft of any type of estate by an executor, administrator, guardian or trustee with intent to defraud. Also, theft by a public servant of government property where the public servant exercised their control in an official capacity, such as: forgery, arson, injury to an elderly or disabled person and more.

7 Year Limitations

Most types of fraud are included in this statute of limitations, such as: healthcare fraud, money laundering, credit and debit card fraud and exploitation of a child, elderly or disabled individual for monetary or personal gain, benefit or profit. These are just a few crimes that fall into this limitation.

5 Year Limitations

Offenses like petty theft or robbery are covered under this limitation, as well as abandoning or endangering a child and insurance fraud.

2 and 3 Year Limitations

Felonies specified under the other limitations will fall under three years. Misdemeanors are classified as having only a two-year statute of limitation.

Limitation of contracts

When there is a contract involved, there is a general rule of four years for the statute of limitations. Although, both parties can decide to reduce the time frame, though it can not be less than two years.

Need Help? Call Us Now!

Here at the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, we have professional and knowledgeable Criminal Law attorneys who are experienced in building a defense for you that suits your needs for the best possible outcome that will benefit you.

We offer complimentary consultations via Zoom, on the phone or in-person.

Call us today at: 281-810-9760.

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