For life or capital felonies, there is no statute of limitations (hereafter, "SOL"). Thus, serious crimes such as murder can be commenced at any time. First degree felonies must be commenced within four years of the offense being fully committed. Second and Third Degree felonies carry a 3 year SOL. First Degree misdemeanors have a 2 year SOL and Second degree misdemeanors have a one year SOL.
What about a DUI?
Since non-felony DUI's are unspecified as to what degree they are, they fall into an "unclassified" group of misdemeanors and default to a second degree misdemeanor. This is hard for many people, even lawyers, to understand considering the harshness and level of litigation and attention DUI charges receive. First degree misdemeanors (more serious than second degree) such as possession of marijuana less than 20 grams are first degree misdemeanors, yet they generally receive much more lenient dispositions than DUI's that are handled in "misdemeanor court". However, such a possession charge carries a maximum sentence of one year in jail, whereas many DUI's (non accident related) carry only half that as a maximum. Because DUI's are unclassified, the SOL is actually only one year.
So How Does The SOL work?
A prosecution must "commence" within the SOL time period, or the Defendant may be entitled to a discharge or dismissal of their charges. So what does "commence" mean? An Information (charging document) or an Indictment must be filed in order for an action or prosecution to be considered "commenced". However, there is a second step. The warrant or capias that is issued must be executed and served on the person as well BEFORE the SOL expires. So, in the case of Grand Theft (3rd deg felony), the Information must be filed within three years of the theft and the person must be picked up on the warrant within the three years.
The State Bites Back! Defenses to the SOL.
Where a Defendant challenges a prosecution on the basis of the SOL, the State assumes the burden to show that the SOL truly was not violated. A few exceptions to the general rule exist that may save a prosecution. For example, the state may be able to show that the Defendant was, at least for a period of time, living outside of the state thereby tolling the running of the statute for that period of absence. Or, the state may establish that "diligent" efforts at executing the warrant were not fruitful because the defendant had no reasonably discernible abode, job ,or residence.
The classic SOL issue that comes up in DUI's are those arising out of accidents where blood results form the basis for the DUI. That is because there is a flawed system for keeping tabs on these cases. Often times the person is not arrested immediately for the DUI because law enforcement feels the need to wait on the blood results to come back first. Because there is no arrest, the SOL begins to run. Because it takes months sometimes for the lab to respond, the case "falls through the cracks" and the person is not sought out as quickly as they should. Often times the officer is not aware of the SOL problem and won't act immediately to secure an arrest.
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