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  • Writer's pictureBlair Goss

What Is the Felony Statute of Limitations? | California Criminal Statute

When it comes to criminal cases, felony offenses punishable by death or life imprisonment are among the most serious crimes that a person can be charged with.

Examples of such crimes under the California Penal Code are murder, treason, embezzlement of public money, aggravated sexual assault of a child, or aggravated kidnapping.

Due to the severity of the alleged offense and punishment, it is not surprising that the courts allow a long California statute of limitations period/ time limit for the criminal case to be tried.

The statute of limitations law in California is structured in such a way that more serious cases have longer statutes of limitations than, for example, a simple misdemeanor crime.

If a defendant is charged with a crime by a federal or state prosecutor, they must hire a good lawyer with an in-depth understanding of the California Penal Code and how the statute of limitations period is applied. Goss Law is always available for a free consultation on matters of tolling statute of limitations California as well.

Why the Statute of Limitations for Felonies Is Important

Why the Statute of Limitations for Felonies Is Important

Even though they are being accused of crimes punishable by long periods of imprisonment, the defendant's rights still need to be protected.

The statute of limitations period is designed to ensure that the prosecutor charges the accused while crucial evidence that may prove innocence is still available.

As more time passes before the victims file charges, witnesses may begin to forget the exact details or may become affected by public opinion in cases of high-profile defendants. This will make it harder for the defense team to fight for the rights of their client.

However, some crimes can be deemed too serious to have a statute of limitations period, meaning the defendant can still face charges many years after the offense occurred.

Civil Vs. Criminal Statutes of Limitations

Both civil lawsuits and criminal charges have their own particular statute of limitations that are applied.

In the case of a civil lawsuit, the statute of limitations is the time limit that the victim or plaintiff has to file a claim against the at-fault party.

A criminal case's statute of limitations, however, is the time limit for federal or state prosecutors to file criminal charges against the defendant.

The time limits have to be strictly adhered to in both cases, although the consequences may be a lot more severe for defendants facing criminal charges.

Time Limits to File Criminal Charges in California

Some minor offenses have very short statutes of limitations while other crimes are so serious they exceed criminal statutes of limitations set by California laws.

As such, defendants must hire criminal defense lawyer Blair Goss who will fight for their rights and ensure fairness when the criminal case is tried.

The following are some common examples of criminal cases that are regularly tried in California and their respective statutes of limitations:

Misdemeanor Crimes

A misdemeanor charge is one of the less serious charges that a defendant may face and usually does not involve any jail time.

As such, it also carries a very short statute of limitations of just one year from the date the offense occurred.

Examples of misdemeanor offenses that fall under this one-year statute of limitations rule include petty theft, prostitution, vandalism, and drunk driving.

Felony Offenses

Most felony offenses can be tried in court up to three years after the alleged criminal offense occurred.

A felony crime is any offense punishable by state prison time. Some misdemeanors against children under the age of 14 years also fall into this category.

However, some serious felonies such as felony fraud, breach of trust, embezzlement of public funds, fraud against the elderly or dependent adults, and misconduct by a public official have a statute of limitations of up to four years after the alleged offense is discovered.

Sexual Assault

Sexual crimes are among the most serious offenses punishable under the California Penal Code.

However, there are many different categories of sexual assault, and each has its own statutes of limitations.

Sexual exploitation by a physician or therapist, for example, has a statute of limitations of up to two years.

Felony sex crimes that require sex offender registration have a time limit of up to 10 years to file charges against the accused. This also applies to the crime of failing to register as a sex offender.

There are also other felony sex crimes against a minor that carry a long statute of limitations lasting until the victim's 40th birthday. Goss Law also has more information on the sexual harassment statute of limitations California.

Other Crimes

The following is a list of other types of crimes committed by defendants that carry various statutes of limitations under California law:

  • Crimes against the elderly or dependent adults - five-year statute of limitations

  • Infliction of corporal injury against an intimate partner - five years

  • Felonies with a maximum penalty of at least 8 years in state prison - six years

  • Crimes involving child pornography - 10 years

What Crimes Have No Statute of Limitations?

Certain crimes punishable by death or the maximum prison term are not covered under any applicable limitation period of time.

In other words, there is no statute of limitations governing when the criminal investigation should be closed or when a criminal conviction is no longer possible.

The following criminal cases have no statute of limitations violations or time limits under California Penal Codes:

  • Aggravated sexual assault of a child

  • Most rape crimes

  • Embezzlement of public money

  • Aggravated kidnapping

  • Murder in the first degree

  • Treason

Tolling Rules for the California Criminal Statute of Limitations

There are times when the statute of limitations starts running much later than the date the offense occurred or the deadline is extended. This is called tolling and it is usually done for the following reasons:

  • Legal insanity

  • The victim is a minor

  • Defendant fled jurisdiction

  • Imprisonment

California's Discovery Rule

When deciding on the applicable time limit for a felony statute of limitations, California has a discovery rule that states that the clock only starts running once the offenses, violations, or crimes have been discovered.

Criminal Defense Attorneys Can Help

Criminal Defense Attorneys Can Help

When facing serious California offenses such as first-degree robbery or murder, a defendant will need a good lawyer by their side to fight for their rights when it comes to applying the statute of limitations laws.

Goss Law has a team of highly experienced attorneys that can help. The law firm is available for a free consultation at its Sacramento offices today.


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