If you have been accused of and arrested for a crime, you may live in fear, not knowing when the prosecutor will file the charges. The justice system in the United States has a time limit for when prosecutors can bring the charges. Similarly, Pennsylvania’s criminal code limits the time a prosecutor can wait to file formal criminal charges.

Severe crimes like murder have no time limit, but prosecutors have between two and 12 years for lesser offenses. An experienced criminal defense law firm in Philadelphia, PA, can help you understand the statute of limitations for your particular criminal charge. They can also defend your case and constitutional rights.

What is the Purpose of Statutes of Limitations?

Statutes of limitations are in place to ensure fair trials by minimizing the likelihood of evidence deteriorating over time. If a prosecutor doesn’t bring a charge against you for a crime within the defined period, there can be no prosecution, and you can’t face criminal charges.

Among the arguments in favor of statutes of limitations are:

  • Memory can fade, and evidence can get lost, making it harder for the accused to defend themselves
  • It wouldn’t be fair to punish someone for an offense they committed a long time ago

Do Statutes of Limitations Change?

Statutes of limitations change at the state and federal level from time to time, so it’s essential to check with a criminal defense attorney in Philadelphia to stay up to date. In the past, offenses like rape and domestic violence had strict statutory periods that would inhibit the prosecution process.

As society experienced social and technological shifts, there was a move towards allowing extended periods to prosecute cases. It’s no wonder that some jurisdictions have no statutes of limitations for domestic violence and sexual offenses.

What is the General Statute of Limitations?

Under code 18 PA. CONS. STAT § 5552, a prosecution must bring charges for a criminal offense within two years after the offense was committed. The statute of limitations applies to most misdemeanors and felonies. Traffic violations have a 30-day statute of limitations after the crime was committed. Sometimes, the 30-day limit commences on the date of discovering the offender’s identity.

When Does the Statute of Limitations Start to Run?

The statute of limitations period typically starts when the alleged crime is committed. For example, if the period for a criminal assault is two years, the prosecution has two years from the date of the attack to file charges.

Manslaughter and Homicide

The following murder charges have no time limit:

  • Conspiracy or solicitation that results in murder
  • Felony murder
  • Voluntary manslaughter
  • Vehicular homicide involving gross negligence, recklessness, or hit-and-run
  • Any felony connected with 1st and 2nd-degree murder

Sex Crimes

Sex crimes have a different statute of limitations than other crimes in Pennsylvania. If you are facing rape accusations against a person above 18 years, the statute of limitations is 12 years after the date of the offense. On the contrary, sexual crimes against a minor don’t have a time limit, meaning you could face charges at any time many years after you committed the crime.

Other statutes of limitations are:

  • Prostitution: 5 years after the crime
  • Labor or sex trafficking of an adult: 10 years after the last offense

Theft and Fraud-Related Crimes

In theft or fraud cases, the clock starts ticking as soon as the offense is discovered. The following are felonies with a 5-year statute of limitations from the date of the crime:

  • Public welfare crime
  • Insurance-related fraud
  • Fraudulent business practices
  • Forgery
  • Theft by unlawful taking
  • Burglary and robbery

Vehicle Summary Offenses

If a car accident results in injuries or death, the statute of limitations is one year after the offense or the offender is discovered, whichever comes later. The maximum is three years after the date of the accident.

Are There Crimes for Which the Statute of Limitations Doesn’t Run?

Certain exceptions exist to the statutes of limitations code. These include cases where:

  • The accused is absent from the state
  • The crimes involve injuries caused by neglect, wrongful act, or unlawful violence
  • There is a pending prosecution against the accused for the same offense
  • The accused has no definite place of work or residence in Pennsylvania

What is Tolling of the Statues of Limitations?

In some circumstances, it can be challenging to discover the crime, or the victim could be too scared to report it. That could delay the start of the statute of limitations period. Here are a few circumstances:

  • Evading prosecution: If the accused tries to avoid arrest for a crime they have been accused of, the law allows the prosecution extra time to bring the charges
  • Public office misconduct: The prosecutor can bring charges at any time if the accused remains in public office or employment. Alternatively, the prosecutor can file the charges five years after the accused leaves office.
  • Child abuse in the home: The statute doesn’t run as long as the child remains in the home where they are abused
  • DNA evidence: Prosecutors are allowed extra time to file charges in certain sex misdemeanors where DNA evidence is collected and the perpetrator is identified. They can file charges within one year after identity confirmation.

A Dedicated Team of Defenders Fighting for The Rights of the Accused

Criminal allegations can disrupt your life, and you may not know where to turn while awaiting the charges. During this period of uncertainty, you can talk to a criminal defense attorney in Philadelphia. An experienced and strategic lawyer can provide legal counsel on the statute of limitations that applies to the criminal allegation you face.

At our law firm, we understand how stressful and overwhelming criminal accusations can be, and we want to walk with you through this journey. Our law firm’s criminal attorneys can build a strong defense against the charges. Contact us to schedule a FREE consultation.