How Long Does the Prosecutor Have to Start Your Case?

For the most part, the prosecutor does not have unlimited time to start your criminal case. They must abide by the time limits set out in the statute of limitations for the alleged offense.

The statute of limitations gives prosecutors a deadline for commencing legal action against a person alleged to have committed a crime. For some offenses, a specific timeframe exists for bringing charges. For others, the case can begin at any time.

Statutes of limitations have a significant purpose in criminal matters. They ensure that a defendant’s case is fair. When the Government brings charges against a person, the prosecutor’s job is to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. They do this by presenting evidence, such as witness testimony or surveillance footage.

Over time, evidence can degrade. For instance, a witness can forget what they saw or be fuzzy on the details. Tangible objects can be lost or mishandled. If your case is pursued years after the alleged incident happened, you could be convicted based on faulty evidence, which would be a miscarriage of justice and completely unfair to you.

The statute of limitations remedies this possible injustice. Generally, the clock starts running when the alleged violation is discovered or committed, depending on the crime. If the prosecutor misses the commencement deadline, your case should be dismissed, meaning you should not be charged with or tried for the crime.

For help understanding and protecting your rights in a Los Angeles criminal case, contact Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP at (800) 462-7160.

The Statute of Limitations for Misdemeanors in California

As alluded to above, the amount of time the prosecutor has to bring criminal charges generally depends on the type of crime alleged to have been committed.

Typically, for misdemeanors, the prosecutor has 1 year from the date the offense was committed to start the case. Thus, if you were accused of petty theft on April 20, 2022, the prosecutor must take action by April 20, 2023.

Some exceptions exist, giving the prosecutor more time to begin a misdemeanor case. For example, prosecution for annoying or molesting a child under 14 years of age (California Penal Code 647.6) can commence within 3 years after the crime was committed.

Statute of Limitations for Felonies

Generally, the prosecutor has 3 years after a felony was committed to begin prosecution. Therefore, a case concerning allegations of first-degree burglary that occurred on April 24, 2022, must be started by April 24, 2025.

Yet, the statutes of limitations for felonies vary widely depending on the nature and facts of the case.

Some exceptions to the 3-year prosecution deadline include, but are not limited to:

  • Offenses punishable by 8 or more years in prison have a 6-year deadline.
  • Certain offenses involving rape, oral copulation, lewd or lascivious acts, continuous sexual abuse of a minor, or forcible penetration with a foreign object can be prosecuted before the victim’s 40th birthday.
  • Offenses involving child pornography can be prosecuted up to 10 years after the illicit depiction was produced.
  • Offenses involving elder abuse can be commenced within 5 years of the commission of the crime.

Crimes Without Time Limits

Not all crimes have a deadline. Some severe offenses can be prosecuted at any time.

These include:

  • Crimes carrying a sentence of life imprisonment, life without parole, or death.
  • The embezzlement of public money.
  • Certain rape, gang rape, oral copulation, lewd or lascivious acts, continuous sexual abuse of a minor, and forcible penetration with a foreign object crimes.

Call Our Firm for Legal Help

You have the right to a fair trial. Any action violating your rights should be addressed and remedied. Our Los Angeles lawyers are here to be your voice and zealously advocate on your behalf.

Schedule a consultation with Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP by calling (800) 462-7160 or submitting an online contact form today.