Criminal Statutes of Limitation
Recently, I have received numerous questions regarding the statutes of limitation on criminal cases. A statute of limitation in the criminal sense is a law which places a time limit on pursuing a criminal conviction. After the expiration of the statutory period, unless a legal exception applies, the state loses the right to bring charges against a potential criminal defendant.
For a misdemeanor offense, Alabama Code Section 15-3-2 dictates that prosecution must commence within twelve months after the commission of the offense. In other words, the state cannot properly bring charges against you 1 year and 1 day after the alleged criminal conduct occurred. This does not mean, however, that a trial must be held within twelve months.
Under Alabama Code Section 15-3-1, generally, all felony offenses must be commenced within three years after the commission of the offense. Just like misdemeanors, the state has three years from the alleged commission of the offense to formally charge the potential defendant. However, again, this does not mean that a trial must be held within three years.
There are several exceptions to the general three year limitation period for felony offenses. For example, under Section 15-3-3, prosecution for conversion (i.e. theft) of state or county revenue must be commenced within six years after the conversion. Most of these exceptions, however, are listed in section 15-3-5 and include more serious felony offenses. The main exception to the three year rule involves capital offenses. Under section 15-3-5, there is no limitation of time for prosecution of a capital offense, meaning that the state may prosecute at any time after the alleged commission.
Capital offenses include murder during commission or attempted commission any of the following: kidnapping first degree; robbery first degree; rape/sodomy first or second degree; burglary first or second degree; murder of a law enforcement officer or official; murder done for economic gain or pursuant to a contract or for hire; sexual abuse first or second degree, arson in the first or second degree; where two or more people are murdered by the defendant by one act; by fully assuming control of any aircraft with intent to obtain any valuable consideration for the release of the aircraft or passengers or to direct the route or movement of the aircraft; by a defendant who has been convicted of any other murder within 20 years; murder of a victim or someone testifying in a criminal trial when the murder stems from, is caused by, or is related to the capacity or role of the victim as a witness; when the victim is less than fourteen years of age; committed through the use of a deadly weapon fired from outside a house while the victim is in a house, or through the use of a deadly weapon while the victim is in a vehicle or the weapon is fired from a vehicle.
The state may also prosecute the following crimes at any time after their commission: any felony involving the use, attempted use, or threat of, violence to a person; any felony involving serious physical injury or death of a person; any sex offense involving a victim under 16 years of age, regardless of whether it involves force or serious physical injury or death; any felony involving arson of any type; any felony involving forgery of any type; any felony involving counterfeiting; and any felony involving drug trafficking.