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The Discovery Rule

McCready Law Group Sept. 4, 2023

In California, a person may face criminal charges for breaking the law or committing an offense. Also, there is a time limit – or statute of limitations – guiding when a charge may be brought against an alleged defendant. Under California's Discovery Rule, the statute of limitations will only start when the crime has been or should have been discovered. As a result, the court may dismiss any charge that is filed after the statute of limitations runs out. 

At McCready Law Group, we're dedicated to offering reliable and skilled representation to clients in their criminal cases. Our strategic California criminal defense attorneys can enlighten you about the statute of limitations for crimes in the state as well as how California's discovery rule affects your criminal case. We're proud to serve clients across Long Beach, Lakewood, and Cypress Hill, California. 

What Is the Statute of Limitations for Crimes in California? 

The statute of limitations (for criminal cases) is the maximum time limit that a federal or state prosecutor has to file a charge against an alleged defendant. In California, misdemeanors have a one-year statute of limitations, while felony crimes have a three-year statute of limitations. Some offenses that have no statute of limitations include murder, forcible rape, violent spousal rape, treason, gang rape, and aggravated kidnapping. 

What Is the Discovery Rule? 

In a criminal case, the discovery rule is a state law that prevents the statute of limitations from running until the police, state, or federal prosecutor discovers or has reason to reasonably discover the crime and file charges against the defendant. Essentially, the discovery rule is often used to determine when the "clock starts running" on the statute of limitations. 

According to California's discovery rule – or delayed discovery rule – for criminal cases, the statute of limitations for some crimes will begin when the offense, violation, or wrongdoing is discovered or could have been discovered. If charges are not brought against the defendant within the statute of limitations, the allegations may be dismissed. 

Why Does Delayed Discovery Exist? 

A statute of limitations for criminal cases exists to protect the defendant's rights and ensure fairness. This is because as time goes by, crucial evidence may be misplaced, memories may fade, witnesses can relocate, and relevant information can be forgotten. Thus, it may be very difficult for the alleged offender to defend against those charges and try to establish their innocence. 

The statute of limitations can help ensure that cases are properly commenced by prosecutors without unnecessarily inconveniencing the alleged defendant's freedom. However, there are situations where the crime involves the perpetrator or alleged defendant taking deceptive steps to cover their tracks and hide evidence. In such circumstances, the delayed discovery rule can help provide fundamental fairness for the victim and ensure that the perpetrator is rightly punished. 

Possible Defenses Involving the Discovery Rule 

Furthermore, the statute of limitations remains an affirmative defense that your attorney can use to fight your charges. When responding to the criminal charges, your legal counsel can raise the statute of limitations defense by showing that the time limit for filing the charges has passed. 

However, your attorney must tread cautiously when establishing a statute of limitations defense to the judge or jury. Arguing that the defendant might have committed the crime unintentionally, but the prosecutors should have filed the charges long ago may be unacceptable. 

Rather, your legal counsel can provide evidence and witnesses to dispute the allegations and focus effort on pursuing a favorable judgment. Even when the charges have technically been filed within the statute of limitations, a strategic criminal defense attorney can outline a solid defense to help fight your charges in pursuit of the best possible outcome.  

Skilled & Experienced Guidance 

In 2022, according to the Crime in California Report, there were 780,888 total arrests statewide. When facing criminal accusations in California, you may be able to get the charges dismissed by proving that the time limit for filing has run out. 

At McCready Law Group, we have the diligence and expertise to guide and defend clients in their criminal cases. Using our in-depth legal understanding, we can guide you through the California criminal justice system and represent you intelligently at every phase of the legal process. 

Contact us at McCready Law Group today to schedule a simple case evaluation with highly-skilled criminal defense lawyers. Our reliable attorney can fight aggressively to uphold your freedom and improve your chances of a better tomorrow. We proudly represent clients across Long Beach, Lakewood, and Cypress Hill, California. 

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