We are all familiar with the term “statute of limitations” but what does it actually mean. In criminal law, it refers to the time in which a person can be prosecuted for a particular crime according to the statute (law). Each state has devises its own statutorily defined time in which a person can be charged with a crime and the federal government has its own statute of limitations for federal crimes.
In California, crimes that can be punished by death or life in prison without the possibility of parole have no statute of limitations, nor do crimes for the embezzlement of public funds. In 2016, a new bill was signed into law that removes the statute of limitations on prosecutions for certain sex crimes, including rape and child molestation. Previous to this law, rape had a ten-year statute of limitations and sex crimes against children had to be prosecuted before the victim turned 40.
All other crimes have a specified number of years under the California statute in which the prosecutor can charge those crimes, but it’s complicated. Generally, misdemeanor crimes must be prosecuted within one year of the date of the crime while felonies must be prosecuted within three or six years depending on the applicable punishment for the crime. Those crimes that are punishable by imprisonment have a three-year statute of limitations, but if the crime is punishable by imprisonment for eight years or more, the statute of limitations bumps up to six years. There are many exceptions. For example, some crimes against a person over the age of 65 have a five-year statute of limitations and some white-collar crimes such as fraud and embezzlement have a four-year statute of limitations.