In the American justice system, the maximum time period allowed prior to the start of legal proceedings is known as the Statute of Limitations. It is oftentimes assumed that the purpose of this time period is to protect defendants in criminal cases. The true purpose and intent is to ensure that the prosecution in criminal cases proceeds in a timely manner. However, it does spare the defendant the burden of being pitted against charges that have gotten stale over an extended time period after evidence has possibly been lost.
In addition to the purpose of a Statute of Limitations, its existence is attributed to 3 factors which include:
- That evidence which could disprove a claim may have gone stale or may have been lost by the defendant
- That the plaintiff should use reasonable diligence when pursuing a good cause of action
- There is more cruelty than justice involved in stale claims
Once a Statute Of Limitations time limit “runs out,” the criminal defendant in the case is basically free to go.
Is There A Statute Of Limitations For Felony Drug Charges?
Generally speaking, the Statute Of Limitations varies from one state to the next and felony drug charges are no exception. Depending on the type of felony that has been committed, most states have a Statute of Limitations attached to the crime. For example:
- Arson, crimes of violence, forgery, kidnapping, and sex offenses involving a minor have no Statute Of Limitations in some states while they do in others
- Monetary-based crimes and crimes involving public records have no Statute Of Limitations in Arizona and California
- Murder has no Statute Of Limitations
- Treason has no Statute Of Limitations in Colorado
In most cases, the criminal/defendant must remain “catchable.” In other words, they must remain where they committed the felony i.e. the same state. Additionally, should the individual leave the state and live as a fugitive (in hiding), the Statute Of Limitations is suspended until he or she returns. Once they return, the statute starts up again.
When Does The Clock Start Ticking On Statute Of Limitations?
Defense and prosecution attorneys oftentimes get into a debate over when the Statutes of Limitation started. This is especially true when a particular crime starts unfolding after a number of days, months, and years. As was mentioned in the prior section, the clock continues to run as long as the individual stays in the state where they committed the crime. However, it is important to remember that Statute of Limitations laws are constantly changing and evolving.
Statutes Of Limitation And The Right To A Speedy Trial
Statutes of Limitation have been distinguished from the right to a speedy trial a.k.a. the Sixth Amendment. This usually applies to the length of time when the case initially goes to trial and when the criminal proceedings actually start. For instance, a criminal case may start during the period prescribed by the state’s statutes. But, if the judge in the case feels that the defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights have been violated because the prosecution failed to keep the proceedings moving, they may dismiss the case.
On a closing note, keep in mind that the content regarding the states mentioned above are merely examples and you should look up the information that applies to your state of residence or speak with a knowledgeable attorney if you have any questions. When the statute starts running or when it is considered as being suspended or when it ends may not be addressed in some information. These are issues that are decided on a case-by-case basis by judges and ones that are raised by attorneys.
- Congressional Research Service – Statutes of Limitation in Federal Criminal Cases: An Overview by Charles Doyle, Senior Specialist in American Public Law
- FindLaw – Time Limits for Charges: State Criminal Statutes of Limitations
- NOLO: Law for All – Criminal Statutes of Limitations