Should the government have an unlimited amount of time to try to prosecute you? I think that most of us can agree that the answer is no. This is true for many reasons, but the overarching reason is because it just wouldn’t be fair.
For example, what if an innocent person was accused of committing a crime that occurred 40 years ago. At this point (40 years down the road) there is most likely little to no way to gather evidence to prove his or her innocence. Witnesses may not be around anymore, and the ones that are most likely will not remember what had occurred. Records will likely be lost or destroyed. It would be very difficult to combat accusations that allegedly occurred 40 years prior for many obvious and not so obvious reasons.
That said, where do we draw the line and what are the rules for time limitations on filing criminal charges in Arizona? To start to understand the answer, it is important to realize that there are different sets of rules for different types of crimes. There are also rules that apply to when time stops and when time continues to runs. This article is aimed to help you understand those rules.
Felony Statute of Limitations
For most felony level crimes, the general rule is that charges must be filed within seven years of when the violation occurred. The exceptions to this general rule include a prosecution for:
- conspiracy to commit homicide that results in the death of someone,
- sexual offense or offenses involving the exploitation of children that are class 2 felonies,
- violent sexual assault,
- unlawful use of a biological substance or radiological agent,
- child sex trafficking,
- any misuse of public monies or a felony involving falsification of public records, attempt to commit an offense listed above
A prosecution for any of the offenses listed above can be brought at any time. That’s to say that there are no time limitations for the government to bring a prosecution for those crimes.
Misdemeanor Statute of Limitations
For most misdemeanor crimes, the government has one-year to commence a prosecution against the accused. This is a drastic reduction from the seven years for most felony prosecutions. For a petty offenses—including non-criminal traffic violations, the time limitation is six months. The main exception to this general rule is found in ARS 28-762.
This statute covers causing serious injury or death while committing certain traffic violations. In these circumstances, the time limitations move from one year to two years. This is true despite the fact that a violation of ARS 28-762 is a class one misdemeanor. The applicable traffic violations for purposes of this exception to the general rule are:
1. ARS 28-645, subsection A, paragraph 3, subdivision (a).
2. ARS 28-710
3. ARS 28-729
4. ARS 28-771
5. ARS 28-772
6. ARS 28-773
7. ARS 28-792
8. ARS 28-794
9. ARS 28-797, subsection F, G, H or I.
10. ARS 28-855, subsection B.
11. ARS 28-857, subsection A.
12. ARS 28-914
How is time calculated?
This can be a tricky question and many of the rules for how and when time should start and stop are up for interpretation during litigation. ARS 13-107states that time starts “after actual discovery by the state or the political subdivision having jurisdiction of the offense or discovery by the state or the political subdivision that should have occurred with the exercise of reasonable diligence, whichever first occurs.” A prosecution is considered to actually start when a complaint is filed, an indictment is issued by a grand-jury or probable cause is found during a preliminary hearing.
The clock isn’t always running even if these conditions are true though. There are certain situations that can start and stop the clock. For example, if a person who is accused of a crime does not live in the state of Arizona—the time does not count. If the accused does not have a home in Arizona that can be tracked down, the clock is not ticking. If the allegations are what the law considered to be a “serious offense” the clock does not tick while the identity of the accused is unknown. What Arizona law considered to be a serious offense can be found in ARS 13-706.
Can a prosecutor dismiss a case and then refile the case even though the statute of limitations would have run from the date the crime was (or should have been) discovered by the government?
The answer is yes. This often happens in misdemeanor cases where a prosecutor believes that a case should be a felony matter. When this happens, the misdemeanor prosecutor will need to dismiss the case in the misdemeanor court and send it to the county superior court for the prosecutors to take a look at picking up for felony prosecution. However, sometimes the felony prosecutors will not take the case and kick it back down for misdemeanor prosecution. In this scenario, the prosecutors must initiate the charges within six months of the dismissal if not within the allowable time limitations in ARS 13-107.
This is all confusing, what do I do if I still have questions about this?
Call me. I can be reached 24/7 via text or call at (480) 363-0090. This area of the law can be confusing and interpreting it can often require an attorney’s advice. That said, I will take a look at your case free of charge to help you determine whether or not there is an issue. Protecting the rights of others is my passion in life and I’m happy to see how I can help.