What does “Statute of Limitations” Mean in a Criminal Case?

Posted by Mark Hauser

All states, including Pennsylvania, place time limits for prosecuting crimes. These time limits are called statutes of limitations (or time limits established by law) and they limit how long a prosecutor may wait to file formal criminal charges, whether they are felonies or misdemeanors.  There is no time limit to bring charges for serious crimes such as murder; for other felonies in Pennsylvania the limits are the following: major offenses or conspiracy or solicitation to commit major offense: 5 yrs.; others: 2 yrs.; fraud or breach of fiduciary duty: 3 yrs.; official misconduct: 8 yrs.; sexual offense committed against a minor: period of limitations starts when minor reaches age 18; major sexual offenses: 12 years.  For misdemeanors it is 2 years; for summary offenses it is 30 days.

For some acts the statue does not run such as the defendant is absent from state; has no ascertainable residence or place of work within state; and prosecution pending for same conduct. The general purpose of statutes of limitation is to ensure that criminal convictions occur only upon evidence that has not deteriorated with time. Generally, if the criminal is a fugitive, out of the state in which the crime occurred, or otherwise living in hiding, this tolls, or suspends, the statute.

Share this on:

Leave a comment