A statute of limitations is an important law that sets the maximum period during which a lawsuit can be filed. Under the scope of criminal law, a statute of limitations prohibits prosecutors from charging someone with a crime after a certain number of years have passed.
As a FindLaw.com article reports, the overall purpose of statutes of limitation is to make sure that charges are filed while physical and eyewitness evidence has not been distorted by time. In some cases, once the time allotted by the statute of limitation has passed, the person who committed the crime is essentially off the hook, so long as certain requirements are met.
For example, many statutes of limitation require the criminal to remain "catachable" in the period during which a lawsuit can be filed such as by staying in the state, consistently holding a job, and being otherwise visible.
If the criminal is a fugitive, living outside of the state the crime was committed in or is otherwise hiding from the police, the statute of limitations is suspended.
Ultimately, with these statutes public policy has determined that if prosecutors still have not filed charges by the time the statute of limitations runs out, the criminal should be able to live without the threat of prosecution.
However, there are some crimes in which statutes of limitation do not apply, including murder. Many states also do not apply statutes of limitation to crimes including sex offenses with minors, certain violent crimes, kidnapping and forgery.
In our next post, we will look at a law that has been proposed in Ohio that would affect the state's current statutes of limitation of 20 years after an alleged rape or sexual battery took place.