Federal Statute of Limitations

What is the Statute of Limitations?

In general, the "statute of limitations" is a legal term for time limits. The statute of limitations is meant to function as a type of "gatekeeper" on when and how charges can be brought. It is meant to build fairness into legal proceedings. In the context of federal charges, time limits stop federal prosecutors from bringing charges for alleged crimes that happened years ago.

Under the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the "Speedy Trial Clause" is meant to protect individuals subject to criminal charges from unreasonable delay between indictment and trial.

What is the Statute of Limitations in Federal Cases?

With some exceptions, most types of federal charges must be brought by prosecutors within five years from the date of the alleged offense, but this general rule is subject to evaluation on a case by case basis. For some types of federal offenses, the statute of limitations is longer. Arson, for example, has a 10-year statute of limitations.

For some types of crimes, there is no statute of limitations.

Expert Tip: The general federal statute of limitations can be found in section 3282 of Title 18 of the United States Code, which provides "no person shall be prosecuted … unless the indictment is found … within five years next after such offense shall have been committed." Per the United States Supreme Court, criminal statutes of limitations, such as this one, are to be interpreted in favor of the defendant. United States v. Marion, 404 U.S. 307 (1971). Nonetheless, a number of federal offenses have a much longer statute of limitations, including fraud against the federal government involving $1,000,000, which has a 7-year statute of limitations.

What Crimes Have No Time Limits?

Many federal offenses have no time limits, meaning that federal prosecutors can generally charge individuals with these crimes at any time, no matter how long ago the alleged offenses took place.

Included among these types of offenses are those involving many sex crimes like failure to register as a sex offender and a multitude of offenses related to child pornography. See 18 U.S.C. § 3283.

Retain Counsel for Representation if You Face Federal Charges

The statute of limitations may or may not be a valid defense in your case. Even if it is not, a lawyer can help protect your rights and improve the outcome. Request a consultation with federal defense attorney Patrick Roberts at 800-760-9071. Patrick Roberts is based in Raleigh, North Carolina, and consults with clients throughout the U.S.

Expert Tip: If your case is one in which the statute of limitations defense can be raised, you must raise it or risk losing it, meaning that the prosecutor can continue to proceed against you even though the time limits have passed. In legal terms, the statute of limitations is an "affirmative defense," not a jurisdictional prerequisite; as such, a defendant waives the statute of limitations defense by failing to assert it. United States v. Williams, 684 F.2d. 296 (4th Cir. 1982).

What is the Statute of Limitations?

In general, the "statute of limitations" is a legal term for time limits. The statute of limitations is meant to function as a type of "gatekeeper" on when and how charges can be brought. It is meant to build fairness into legal proceedings. In the context of federal charges, time limits stop federal prosecutors from bringing charges for alleged crimes that happened years ago.

Under the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the "Speedy Trial Clause" is meant to protect individuals subject to criminal charges from unreasonable delay between indictment and trial.

What is the Statute of Limitations in Federal Cases?

With some exceptions, most types of federal charges must be brought by prosecutors within five years from the date of the alleged offense, but this general rule is subject to evaluation on a case by case basis. For some types of federal offenses, the statute of limitations is longer. Arson, for example, has a 10-year statute of limitations.

For some types of crimes, there is no statute of limitations.

Expert Tip: The general federal statute of limitations can be found in section 3282 of Title 18 of the United States Code, which provides "no person shall be prosecuted … unless the indictment is found … within five years next after such offense shall have been committed." Per the United States Supreme Court, criminal statutes of limitations, such as this one, are to be interpreted in favor of the defendant. United States v. Marion, 404 U.S. 307 (1971). Nonetheless, a number of federal offenses have a much longer statute of limitations, including fraud against the federal government involving $1,000,000, which has a 7-year statute of limitations.

What Crimes Have No Time Limits?

Many federal offenses have no time limits, meaning that federal prosecutors can generally charge individuals with these crimes at any time, no matter how long ago the alleged offenses took place.

Included among these types of offenses are those involving many sex crimes like failure to register as a sex offender and a multitude of offenses related to child pornography. See 18 U.S.C. § 3283.

Retain Counsel for Representation if You Face Federal Charges

The statute of limitations may or may not be a valid defense in your case. Even if it is not, a lawyer can help protect your rights and improve the outcome. Request a consultation with federal defense attorney Patrick Roberts at 800-760-9071. Patrick Roberts is based in Raleigh, North Carolina, and consults with clients throughout the U.S.

Expert Tip: If your case is one in which the statute of limitations defense can be raised, you must raise it or risk losing it, meaning that the prosecutor can continue to proceed against you even though the time limits have passed. In legal terms, the statute of limitations is an "affirmative defense," not a jurisdictional prerequisite; as such, a defendant waives the statute of limitations defense by failing to assert it. United States v. Williams, 684 F.2d. 296 (4th Cir. 1982).

North Carolina vs. M.W.
Charge: Charge: Robbery with A Dangerous Weapon (4 Counts), First Degree Burglary, Conspiracy to Commit Robbery with A Dangerous Weapon
Facing: 12 - 17 years in prison
Result: Dismissed

An incarcerated defendant accused our client of participating in the robbery of a group of youth at a party. We were able to raise doubt as to the credibility of this individual. In the end, the prosecutor dismissed these charges, citing a lack of evidence.