With over 20,000 laws and violations, the U.S. justice system is swamped with millions of cases each year. There’s little room to wait around, let alone waste tax dollars and the time of judges and juries. Therefore the system needs to be quick and hold those who feel they have been wronged accountable for building a quick and efficient case. A major part of this is ensuring a case happens within a reasonable amount of time. This is where the statute of limitations comes in.
The Statute of Limitations is a set time period in which a crime can no longer be prosecuted in court. It’s essentially an expiration date for seeking justice. These time periods vary upon the severity. More serious offenses require time for evidence to be gathered, for example murder can take years of investigation, while theft may rely on basic fingerprint testing or security footage review. Once the time limit is reached, courts no longer have jurisdiction and filed cases may be blocked.
But what if they’re guilty? Why can you not seek justice? The court system believes justice is deserved by those who take action. If an individual is robbed, then takes four years to enter the courtroom, they view it as an unimportant issue. Either the individual should be more aware, if it took them so long to find out, or it didn’t cause enough harm for them to feel wronged. It’s also meant to protect the defendant in order for a fair trial to occur in some ways:
- They may have lost evidence which would disprove a stale claim.
- A long-dormant claim has more cruelty than justice.
How can a claim have more cruelty than justice? If you shoplift a CD when you’re 13, you’re young, not fully developed and still deciding what’s right and wrong, but a thief nonetheless. If you were prosecuted for that crime at the age of 35, the reputation of this fully formed adult is now tarnished with being a thief. Also, if the plaintiff needed 22 years to build a case on a stolen CD, it’s probably not a big enough deal to have judges involved.
The Statute of Limitations begins once the act has been committed or damage has been discovered. This is obvious in most circumstances, however cases involving long term health issues like mesothelioma begin when the first diagnosis is made.
While every crime is different, these are the average time periods in which a crime must be brought to court.
- Murder: no time limit
- Felony charges: six years
- Misdemeanor charges: two years
- Petty misdemeanors and infractions: six months