Criminal Defenses: When the Statute of Limitations for a Crime Has Run Out


Statute of Limitations

As a general rule, whenever a criminal charge is brought against a defendant, the charge is subject to a statute of limitations. A statute of limitations is a period of time that is provided by law in which the charge for a particular crime must be brought against the defendant, or else foregone. When charges are not brought within the designated time period, the charges are barred. It makes good sense and good public policy to require prosecutors to bring a case in a timely fashion, so that evidence such as DNA or fingerprints is still available, witnesses’ memories are still fresh, and defendants are not unfairly or unreasonably years and years after the alleged crime took place.

MassachusettsLimitations for Common Crimes

Charges must be brought in a timely manner, which begins either immediately after the crime was committed, or when a victim discovers that a crime has been committed. The length of the statute of limitations for a crime typically correlates to how serious the crime in question is. The time period for a number of common Massachusetts crimes are codified under M.G.L. ch. 277, sect. 63 and are as follows:

  • Most misdemeanor crimes carry a statute of limitations that is six years. This includes crimes like arson, assault and battery (depending on the facts of the case), burglary, disorderly conduct, kidnapping, manslaughter, receiving stolen property, and theft.
  • Robbery, armed robbery, attempted murder with a dangerous weapon, and assault and battery (depending on the facts of the case) carry a statute of limitations of 10 years of the offense.
  • Assault with the intent to commit rape, rape, and abuse or assault of a child carry a statute of limitations of 15 years of the offense.
  • Murder carries no statute of limitations.

For crimes that have a statute of limitations, the statute itself can be tolled, i.e., paused, if the defendant is not located or residing in the state of Massachusetts. The statute of limitations clock will resume when the defendant returns to the state. Similarly, as a general rule if the crime was committed against a child under the age of 16, the statute of limitations will toll until the victim reaches the age of 16.

Using the Time Period to Have Charges Dismissed

When charges are brought after the time limit for a crime has expired, the defendant cannot be prosecuted for those charges, as they are time barred. The burden is on the defendant to raise the issue of an expired statute of limitations if applicable.

You Need a Criminal Defense Lawyer

Criminal charges are always serious, even when the alleged crime was committed a long time ago. If you are facing old criminal charges, you should contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer immediately. Our Attorney has been working with criminal defendants for many years and can help you determine if the time period for filing charges against you has expired. Please contact Our Attorney immediately either online .