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California Statute of Limitations

McCready Law Group Sept. 4, 2023

In California, the statute of limitations exists for criminal cases to specify the maximum time limit that a federal or state prosecutor can bring a criminal charge against an alleged defendant. However, any claim or charge filed against the defendant after the statute of limitations runs out will be dismissed by the court.  

According to a 2022 California Court Statistics Report, there were 186,319 total filings for felonies. Of these, 15,838 cases were acquitted and dismissed for various reasons, including the statute of limitations being expired. 

At McCready Law Group, we're committed to protecting individuals facing criminal charges from the worst possible situation. Our experienced California criminal defense attorneys can educate you about the state's criminal statute of limitations and strategize an effective defense to help fight your charges. We proudly represent clients throughout Long Beach, Cypress Hill, and Lakewood, California. 

What Is the Statute of Limitations?

With respect to criminal cases, a statute of limitations is a law that specifies the maximum time limit after a crime or violation that a federal or state prosecutor can file a charge against the alleged defendant or perpetrator. According to California's Discovery Rule, the statute of limitations will start when the crime, wrongdoing, or violation has been or should have been reasonably discovered. 

Why Does Statute of Limitations Exist for Criminal Cases?

Furthermore, a statute of limitations exists for criminal cases to: 

  • Protect the defendant's rights and ensure fairness. 

  • Ensure that criminal cases are properly and timely commenced. 

  • Avoid situations where the crucial evidence may be lost, memories fade, witnesses relocate, and the suspect is unable to defend themselves properly. 

  • Ensure that prosecutors do not continue tracking alleged defendants for extended periods. 

  • Ensure that prosecutors do not unnecessarily inconvenience the suspect's freedom by keeping them under the power of the authorities. 

However, statutes of limitations are not only limited to criminal cases. There is also a maximum time limit for an injured person to file a civil claim or lawsuit against the at-fault party. 

Difference Between Civil & Criminal Statute of Limitations

As mentioned earlier, there are statutes of limitations for both civil and criminal cases. The statute of limitations in a civil case indicates the maximum time limit that a plaintiff can file a claim or lawsuit against a negligent party to recover financial compensation for injuries and damages suffered. Conversely, the statute of limitations in a criminal case indicates the maximum time limit for a state or federal prosecutor can file a criminal charge or charges against an alleged defendant. 

Some California Offenses & the Time Limits to File Charges

The criminal statute of limitations will depend on the nature of the offense – misdemeanor or felony – and other surrounding circumstances. 

Misdemeanors: Misdemeanors are less serious offenses. The statute of limitations for misdemeanor crimes in California is one year. 

Felonies: Felonies are the most serious type of criminal charge in California. The California statute of limitations for felony offenses is three years. 

Sexual Assault: If the victim is an adult, the statute of limitations is ten years. However, if the victim is a minor (below 18 years), prosecutors may be able to file charges until the victim's 40th birthday. 

Others: Some other offenses with an exclusive statute of limitations include: 

  • Other types of fraud – 4-year statute of limitations. 

  • Domestic Violence – 5-year statute of limitations. 

  • Elder abuse – 5-year statute of limitations. 

  • Felonies punishable by imprisonment for 8 or more years – the 6-year statute of limitations. 

  • Failure to register as a sex offender – 10-year statute of limitations. 

  • Making child pornography – 10-year statute of limitations. 

In some cases, the statute of limitations may be paused and will only start running once certain conditions are met – depending on the surrounding circumstances of the case. 

What Is "Tolling"?

At times, the statute of limitations for a criminal offense may be suspended or doesn't start running for a specific period. This is referred to as "tolling." Some common reasons for tolling a statute of limitations in California include: 

  • The victim is below 18 years old. 

  • Legal insanity. 

  • The victim or defendant was out of the state 

  • The defendant was in prison. 

  • The defendant fled the jurisdiction. 

Once the condition that resulted in the tolling ends, the statute of limitations will resume or start running. However, not all crimes have a statute of limitations. 

Exceptions to Statute of Limitations

Some offenses that have no statute of limitations in California include: 

  • Murder

  • Gang rape. 

  • Violent or forceful rape of a spouse. 

  • Treason. 

  • Forcible rape. 

  • Aggravated kidnapping. 

  • Capital offenses are punishable by the death penalty. 

  • Fraud of public funds and other offenses are punishable by life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. 

Except for crimes with no statute of limitations, criminal charges must be filed against the alleged defendant within the required period of time in order to prosecute them. 

California's Discovery Rule

Under California's discovery rule, the statute of limitations for an offense will start once the crime, wrongdoing, or violation has been discovered or could have been reasonably discovered. In the event that the prosecutor fails to file a charge against the defendant within the specified statute of limitations, the court may dismiss the accusations against the alleged suspect. 

Strong Legal Advocacy: McCready Law Group

Defending your criminal accusation or navigating the California criminal justice system on your own is never advisable. At McCready Law Group, we have devoted our careers to offering experienced legal services and handling criminal cases. 

As your legal counsel, we can investigate your case details, determine whether you can establish a statute of limitations defense, or explore other possible legal defenses to help fight your charges. In addition, we will fight aggressively for your rights, dispute the accusations against you with factual evidence, and help keep your record as clean as possible. 

Contact us at McCready Law Group today to schedule a simple case assessment with knowledgeable criminal defense attorneys. Our trusted lawyers have the skilled representation and personalized guidance you need in your case. We're proud to serve clients across Long Beach, Cypress Hill, and Lakewood, California.

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