A statute of limitations sets a limit for prosecuting certain crimes. Criminal charges must be filed within the specified time period or they cannot be filed at all. Not all crimes in Texas are subject to a statute of limitations.
There is a good reason why these laws are in place. Evidence deteriorates with time, witnesses die and memories become clouded.
In criminal law, the statute of limitations establishes how soon after an incident a prosecutor must file formal charges. The incident in question may be an arrest.
In Texas as in other states, there is no statute of limitations for serious crimes like murders and certain sexual assaults. In the Lone Star State, a defendant may be charged with a cold case murder decades after it was committed.
Crimes When No Statute of Limitations is in Place in Texas
The statute of limitations is not in place when the following crimes are committed:
- Murder and manslaughter;
- Offenses committed against young children;
- Sexual assault or aggravated assault;
- Human trafficking;
- Leaving the scene of an accident when a death has taken place;
- Compelling prostitution through threat or fraud or to someone under 18.
Prosecutors can charge suspects with these crimes no matter how much time has passed since the alleged offense. There is no time limit related to prosecutions for sexual assault if biological matter is collected during the investigation and subjected to forensic DNA testing and the tests show the matter does not match the victim or any other person whose identity can be readily ascertained. A defendant may be charged after a positive DNA match many years after a sexual assault took place.
There is no statute of limitations for sexual assault when probable cause exists to believe the defendant committed the same or a similar sexual offense against five or more victims.
The application of the statute of limitations for various crimes is set out in the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure.
The cut off times for the filing of criminal charges include:
- None: Homicide crimes of murder and manslaughter, specified sexual assaults including the sexual abuse of a child, human trafficking offenses, hit and run resulting in death.
- Ten years: Theft offenses involving government servants, forgery, crimes involving the injury of an elderly or disabled person, arson, and compelling prostitution;
- Seven years: Misapplication of fiduciary property or property of a bank or another financial institution, certain tax crimes, money laundering, fraud, identity theft, and bigamy.
- Five years: All other theft offenses, burglaries, robbery, insurance fraud, abandoning or endangering a child, injury to an elderly or disabled person not punishable as a felony of the first degree.
- Three years: Any other felonies not specifically referenced in the code section.
The statute of limitations is usually extended if the victim is under the age of 17 when the crime is committed.
The statute of limitations runs two years from the date when the crime was committed in the case of misdemeanor offenses in Texas.
The statute of limitations is not applicable when the accused is out of the state of Texas.
The statute of limitations and how it relates to crimes is a complex issue. An experienced Dallas criminal defense lawyer can advise you on this area of the law.