What are the criminal statutes of limitations in Florida?
It depends on the crime being alleged. But perhaps the first question is why there are statutes of limitations in the first place. The “statute of limitations” basically sets forth the amount of time that the government has to either initiate a proceeding against a person or it loses the right to do so. There are a number of reasons states enact statutes of limitations in criminal and civil proceedings, mostly having to do with the notion that if there is evidence to initiate a proceeding, it should be done in a timely manner, and if there isn’t, the person shouldn’t have to spend his or her life looking over their shoulder. A person should either be given their day in court or they should be given a measure of repose so that they can move on with life.
In the criminal context, the basic rules are that if it’s a capital proceeding, a life felony, or a felony that resulted in any death, there is no statute of limitations. If it is a first-degree felony, the statute of limitations is four years. For any other felony, the statute of limitations is three years.
There are a number of other specific statutes of limitations that apply to particular crimes. For the statutes of limitations that apply to some sex crimes, you can see a fuller discussion of that on the practice area page for sex crimes.
And there are a number of other specifically-set statutes of limitations in Florida Statutes section 775.15, which is where all this is found.
The statute of limitations on an event alleged to be a crime begins running when the alleged act is committed. Subsection (3) says that
an offense is committed either when every element has occurred or, if a legislative purpose to prohibit a continuing course of conduct plainly appears, at the time when the course of conduct or the defendant’s complicity therein is terminated. Time starts to run on the day after the offense is committed.
So, if the event is a single-transaction type of event, like a robbery, it is easy to fix the date upon which the clock starts ticking for the government. If it is a conspiracy or some other ongoing course of conduct, it’s a little more tricky.
How does the government “stop the clock” so as to prevent losing a case to the statute of limitations? Subsection (4) states as follows:
Prosecution on a charge on which the defendant has previously been arrested or served with a summons is commenced by the filing of an indictment, information, or other charging document.
A prosecution on a charge on which the defendant has not previously been arrested or served with a summons is commenced when either an indictment or information is filed, provided the capias, summons, or other process issued on such indictment or information is executed without unreasonable delay.
So, the government typically has to stop the clock by filing a formal charging document, not by merely issuing an arrest warrant or even by making an arrest.
As they say, “sometimes timing is everything!”