Are there time limits for filing criminal charges?

This week in Waco the State is prosecuting a murder case where the murder happened 18 years ago. When some people see a case like it's not uncommon to wonder how long the State has to file charges against someone. There are time limits - which are different according to the type of case it is. As you would probably guess, the more serious the charge, the longer the State has to file it.

What governs the time for filing charges is the Statute of Limitations. In Texas, that is found in Chapter 12 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. Art. 12.01 addresses the time limits for felonies. For some offenses, there is no time limit. That includes murder and manslaughter, as well most sex offenses where the victims are children.

There is a 10 year limit for certain types of theft as well as forgery, injury to the elderly or a disabled injury, sexual assualt and arson.

Financial offenses such as misapplication of fiduciary property, or property of a financial institution, securing the execution of document by deception, false statements to obtain property or credit, money laundering, credit card or debit card abuse, and use or possession of identifying information are all subject to a seven year limitations.

Most other offenses are subject to a five year limitations period.

As you can see, there are several different periods, along with a number of rules concerning how you calculate time. No lawyer I know of has that list memorized. However, you should know enough to know when should you check and see if its an issue.

Misdemeanors are little simpler. The limitations period is two years.

Limitations does not come up very often, because most cases are prosecuted fairly promptly. However, when it is, it must be investigated and pursued. If you are outside the limitations period - and there are no exceptions - the case must be dismissed. It makes no difference how guilty you may be.

As with any legal issue, you must rely on the advice of a competent criminal defense attorney. Time periods change, and there are exceptions which may apply in any case. You need a lawyer to investigate and review the case, and determine whether it is something you might be able to take advantage of.

Walter Reaves
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Criminal Defense Attorney Walter Reaves has been practicing law for over 30 years.