Federal Crimes: Is Statute of Limitations a Viable Defense?

Gavel and documents on a table

A statute of limitations can be a defense for certain criminal charges. In federal court, it may or may not apply to your case. If you’ve been charged with a crime that occurred a long time ago, be sure to mention that to your attorney to see if this could be a viable defense – but be aware that not all crimes are subject to the same time limit.

In general, in federal court, there is a 5-year statute of limitations for felonies – this means after 5 years has passed since the commission of the crime, the government can no longer file criminal charges for it. Remember though, the key there is that they can’t file criminal charges; just because 5 years have passed and your case is pending does not mean it will be dismissed. Statute of limitations only applies to the filing of the case though there could be other defenses available if a case has been pending a long time.

As with everything in law, however, there are exceptions to that 5-year statute of limitations. The 5-year time frame is general and applies unless there is a specific law that states otherwise. For example, for crimes such as capital murder and terrorism – there is no statute of limitations and an individual can be charged with those crimes regardless of how much time has passed. Some crimes have lengthier statutes of limitation; for example, tax evasion, failure to file a tax return and other certain tax crimes have a 6-year statute of limitations. Some immigration charges and charges involving bank and financial fraud are subject to a 10-year statute of limitations, rather than the general 5 years. This can become particularly tricky if you are facing multiple charges with different statutes of limitations.

The statute of limitations defense is available because, for many crimes, it is simply unfair to require a person to defend against a crime so long ago that it is difficult to recall information and evidence to present a viable defense. However, this has to be raised at a certain point in the criminal proceedings or else it will be considered waived. So if you think this may be a viable defense, obtain an attorney before you unknowingly waive that defense – it could be the difference between your freedom and lack thereof.

If you’re facing a federal criminal charge, call us today for your free consultation.