Shadow figures representing Assault

Statute of Limitations for Assault in California

McCready Law Group Sept. 26, 2023

Facing assault charges can be an intimidating and life-altering experience, especially if you are accused of assaulting someone years ago. If this sounds like your situation, it is crucial that you understand the statute of limitations for assault in California, as the prosecution has a limited amount of time to file charges against individuals.  

If you are being accused of committing a crime that allegedly occurred in a distant past, I can help. As a criminal defense attorney at McCready Law Group, I understand that trying to figure out the statute of limitations after learning you are a suspect in an assault case can be overwhelming. Being vigilant of legal time frames is important to protect yourself from being unfairly tried and convicted of something that happened a long while ago.  

Understanding Assault and Statute of Limitations

In California, a person can be charged with assault whenever that person unlawfully attempts to injure another person or threatens to cause harm to another person in a way that would make a reasonable person believe they were about to get hurt. Under California law, assault charges apply only when the person has the present ability to apply force. This is known as a simple assault in the state of California.  

A statute of limitations plays a pivotal role in assault cases and all other criminal cases, for that matter. This law restricts the time within which the prosecutor can file criminal charges against the defendant after the alleged commission of the crime. If assault charges are filed after the statute of limitations expires, the defendant may qualify for a dismissal of the charge. Statutes of limitations are put in place to ensure prompt prosecution of criminal charges and protect potential defendants against unfair prosecution after a significant passage of time.  

Overview of California’s Assault Statute of Limitations

Simple assault is considered a misdemeanor under California law, though certain aggravating factors may turn the charge into a felony. The statute of limitations for simple assault is one year, while the time period during which charges must be filed for aggravated assault is increased to three years. Some examples of aggravating factors in assault cases include: 

  • Using a deadly weapon 

  • Using a firearm 

  • Assault that produces or is likely to produce great bodily injury 

  • Assault on a peace or police officer 

Interestingly, aggravated assaults accounted for 67% of all reported violent crimes in the state of California in 2021, according to research by the Public Policy Institute of California. In most cases, aggravated assaults are charged as wobblers, which means they can be sentenced as either a misdemeanor or felony. The statute of limitations begins from the date of the commission of the crime, though the “discovery rule” may also apply. Under this rule, which is an exception to the statute of limitations, the clock for the statute of limitations starts when the offense is discovered rather than when it was committed. For example, if a person allegedly committed a simple assault on July 1, 2021, but law enforcement had no knowledge of the crime until September 1, 2022, the discovery rule may apply, allowing the prosecutor to file charges until September 1, 2023.  

Factors Influencing Statute of Limitations

There are also other exceptions to California’s one-year and three-year statute of limitations in misdemeanor and felony assault cases, respectively. For example, if law enforcement investigates a crime but there is no suspect, the case may be closed. If, years later, the police discover new DNA evidence sufficient to file charges against a particular person, the statute of limitations can be extended one year after the DNA is found. However, this exception applies to most sex crimes in California, including sexual assault, but not to simple or aggravated assaults.  

The statute of limitations may also be tolled (suspended) for three years when the defendant is out of the state or may be tolled indefinitely if the defendant is actively evading arrest. California law also recognizes the tolling of the statute of limitations for certain felony sex crimes against minors. In those cases, the time period during which the alleged perpetrator can be held criminally liable is tolled until the minor turns 18 years old. However, this rule does not apply to simple or aggravated assault cases.  

Dedicated & Knowledgeable Guidance

At McCready Law Group, I provide comprehensive criminal defense representation to people in Long Beach, California, and the surrounding area, including Lakewood and Cypress Hill. If you are facing assault charges for something that occurred years ago, I will help you examine all the details of your case to determine whether the statute of limitations has expired. Contact one of my seven law offices in California to schedule a consultation and discuss your case.  

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