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What Is the Statute of Limitations?

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Knowing and understanding the laws of the land can be a daunting task, and statutes of limitations are no exception to this rule. A statute of limitations creates a time period in which a prosecutor may bring charges against someone. If the time period lapses, then the charges could no longer be brought to trial.

The statute of limitations was initially created to ensure that if a case went to trial, then the trial would be held fairly without evidence and testimony being distorted over time. Charges could be brought forth after a statute of limitation has lapsed but would likely be struck out from the court system due to period expiring.

Statute of Limitations by State

One important factor is the statute of limitations by state. Some states have tiers or levels for the type of crimes or incidents that dictate the statute of limitation. Other states do not place a statute of limitation on any charges. This would apply to charges brought on at the state level; however, this can be very different for charges brought on at a federal level.

Examining a few states, different statutes can help to understand how these are handled at the state level.

Using Texas as an example, you will find that many civil cases that include injury hold a two-year statute of limitation. The statute of limitations in Texas for civil cases carries a timeframe of two years for assault and battery, false imprisonment, personal injury, property damage, trespassing, and wrongful death, as well as many other charges. In comparison, South Carolina holds most of the mentioned cases to a three-year statute of limitation rather than Texas’s two-year statute of limitation.

Medical Malpractice Statute of Limitations

Statutes of limitations for medical malpractice equally vary from state to state, but nearly every state would grant you at least one year to file a claim from the date of an injury. Each state has variable time frames to which they find permissible, and some have different tiers based on the severity of the injury obtained.


Missouri, North Carolina and Virginia each honor a ten-year medical malpractice statute of limitation based on the most severe of cases. For less severe cases, the average medical malpractice statute of limitation is between two and three years. In some states, a “discovery rule” has been put into place due. The “discovery rule” was created for instances where the patient may not experience symptoms or pain caused by the medical activity until well after the medical procedure was completed.

Statute of Limitations on Rape and Sexual Assault

One difficult type of case to speak of is rape and sexual assault due to it being difficult for the victim to come forward and discuss the assault. Sometimes those victims do not seek to bring forth charges for years after the offense occurs. As there are 34 states that impose time limits on when a rape case can be filed, this can mean that waiting could allow the guilty party to “get away” without punishment. Of those 34 states, many have statutes ranging from three to thirty years depending upon the severity of the charges.

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Looking at Texas again, the statute of limitations for sexual assault is ten years unless the victim is a minor or under the age of seventeen at the time of the assault to which there is no statute of limitation. While Texas has a ten-year statute for adults, South Carolina holds no statute of limitation for sexual assault.

Statute of Limitations on Murder

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For serious crimes such as murder, the statutes of limitations are handled differently. Both federal and state-level cases would have no statute of limitations, meaning that years and even decades after the crime has been committed that charges can be brought up and taken to trial. This allows the opportunity for law enforcement and prosecution to gather evidence and prosecute old cases that may have existed from years ago.

Federal Statute of Limitations

Occasionally an offender could be charged on both a state and federal level for a crime or act. For most charges, the federal statute of limitations is set at five years; however, like state statutes of limitations, certain crimes may have a longer statute of limitations or may not apply at all. From time to time, both federal and state-level statutes can be extended to allow for proper time to procure evidence or properly put together the case for trial.

There are certain federal crimes which carry no statute of limitations. These federal crimes include:

  • Federal capital murder
  • Terrorism in which death or bodily harm was inflicted
  • Sexual crimes against children

Other federal crimes, such as white-collar crimes, carry a six-year statute of limitations. Federal crimes committed against the IRS, such as felony tax evasion or failure to file a tax return, must be filed within six years of the date of the offense. The statute of limitations for other major federal fraud is seven years from the date of the offense.

Federal immigration offenses can have a statute of limitations between 5 to 10 years, depending on the offense.

Federal banks and financial institutions carry a 10-year statute of limitations for committing fraud, theft, embezzlement, making false statements, or creating false documents and reports.


Statutes of limitations were created for the fairness of trials. These limitations were not put in place to protect criminals or guilty parties but rather to ensure that a trial would consist of evidence and facts that are accurate and reliable. While many specific instances carry a predefined statute of limitation, it is important to seek out legal expertise as there are cases where a court or judge may rule that a statute of limitation may not apply based on the severity of the offense. This is also the case when multiple charges may be brought against a party whether it be at the state level or federal level.

If you have more legal questions, you can also chat online with a attorney where you’ll be instantly connected to a lawyer who can give you legal guidance on your specific case or question.

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