How Long Can a Prosecutor File a Criminal Case Against You? – Arizona Statute of Limitation
In a civil lawsuit, plaintiffs must ensure that their cases are filed on or before the statute of limitations expires. A statute of limitations simply refers to the law or statute telling plaintiffs (injured parties) how long they have in which to file a particular type of lawsuit. The purpose of these statutes of limitations is to ensure that the evidence and witnesses relevant to the resolution of the dispute can (usually) be found easily. Also, statutes of limitations exist so that defendants accused of civil wrongs are not required to put their lives on hold indefinitely because of the threat of a lawsuit that might not be filed for years.
Criminal charges can be just as disrupting to a person’s life than a civil lawsuit, and perhaps even more so. Moreover, just as evidence in a civil case can be lost if not found and used quickly so too can evidence in a criminal case be lost over time and the memories of witnesses fade. Is there any similar statute of limitations that governs criminal cases? The surprising answer is, yes.
Statute of Limitations in Felony and Misdemeanor Cases
In Arizona, a typical felony offense must be charged and filed within seven years of the date of occurrence. In other words, if you commit a felony crime on January 1, 2016, the prosecutor’s office would have until January 1, 2023, to file criminal charges against you. The time begins to run after the crime has been completed. So, if the police did not discover evidence of your crime until July 1, 2016, the prosecutor would still only have until January 1, 2023, to file criminal charges.
Misdemeanor charges must be filed within one year, and petty offenses and violations (like traffic tickets) need to be filed within six months after the date of occurrence. See Arizona criminal statute of limitation laws.
You should note that the statutes of limitations noted above are only guidelines as there are some situations which can cause the time limitations to be extended or done away with altogether. These situations include:
- When the defendant is charged with a certain crime such as a homicide crime or violent sexual crime. These types of criminal charges can be filed at any time – even years or decades later (although most times the prosecutor’s office will file charges as soon as law enforcement officers have completed their investigation). Misuse of public money or falsification of public records charges may also be filed at any time.
- When the defendant has absconded from the jurisdiction and/or is concealing him- or herself. If the defendant is actively attempting to conceal his or her location so that he or she cannot be located by law enforcement, the time the defendant spends in this condition does not count toward the expiration of the statute of limitations.
- Similarly, when the defendant has taken steps to conceal the fact that the crime has been committed, then the statute of limitations may be extended or ordered to start on the day law enforcement made their discovery or “break” in the case.
What Happens if the Prosecutor Does Not File Charges in Time?
Although rare, sometimes a prosecutor fails to file charges against a person within the applicable period. In most cases, a defendant who brings the fact that the applicable statute of limitations has passed to the court’s attention will have his or her charges dismissed with prejudice (meaning that they cannot be refiled). However, before this happens, the prosecutor’s office can prove facts and circumstances to the court that establish that the statute of limitations has not in fact expired.