Statutes of limitations are designed to prevent dishonest and stale claims from arising after all evidence has been lost or after the facts have become obscure through the passage of time or the defective memory, death, or disappearance of witnesses. These statutes apply to both civil and criminal actions.
A majority of states have a statute of limitations for all crimes except murder. Criminal statutes of limitations apply to different crimes on the basis of their general classification as either felonies or misdemeanors. Once the statute has expired, the court lacks jurisdiction to try or punish a defendant. The following rules apply to the State of Louisiana.
La. CCRP Article 578
Except as provided by another statute, no trial shall be commenced nor any bail obligation be enforceable:
(1) In capital cases after three years from the date of institution of the prosecution;
(2) In other felony cases after two years from the date of institution of the prosecution; and
(3) In misdemeanor cases after one year from the date of institution of the prosecution.
CRIMES FOR WHICH THERE IS NO TIME LIMITATION
La. CCRP Article 571
There is no time limitation upon the institution of prosecution for any crime for which the punishment may be death or life imprisonment or for the crime of forcible rape.
TIME LIMITATION FOR CERTAIN SEX OFFENSES
La. CCRP Article 571.1
Sexual battery, Second degree sexual battery, Oral sexual battery, Felony carnal knowledge of a juvenile, Indecent behavior with juveniles, Molestation of a juvenile, Crime against nature, Aggravated crime against nature, Incest, or Aggravated incest which involves a victim under seventeen years of age, regardless of whether the crime involves force, serious physical injury, death, or is punishable by imprisonment at hard labor shall be thirty years. This thirty-year period begins to run when the victim attains the age of eighteen.
LIMITATION OF PROSECUTION OF NONCAPITAL OFFENSES
La. CCRP Article 572
Except as provided above in La. CCRP Articles 571 and 571.1, no person shall be prosecuted, tried, or punished for an offense not punishable by death or life imprisonment, unless the prosecution is instituted within the following periods of time after the offense has been committed:
(1) Six years, for a felony necessarily punishable by imprisonment at hard labor.
(2) Four years, for a felony not necessarily punishable by imprisonment at hard labor.
(3) Two years, for a misdemeanor punishable by a fine, or imprisonment, or both.
(4) Six months, for a misdemeanor punishable only by a fine or forfeiture.
INTERRUPTION OF STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS
La CCRP Article 575
The statutes of limitation shall be interrupted when the defendant:
(1) Avoids detection, apprehension or prosecution, flees from the state, is outside the state, or is absent from his usual place of abode within the state; or
(2) Lacks mental capacity to proceed at trial and is committed to a psychiatric hospital.
FILING OF NEW CHARGES UPON DISMISSAL OF PROSECUTION
La CCRP Article 579
When a criminal prosecution is timely instituted in a court of proper jurisdiction and the prosecution is dismissed by the district attorney with the defendant's consent, or before the first witness is sworn at the trial on the merits, or the indictment is dismissed by a court for any error, defect, irregularity, or deficiency, a new prosecution for the same offense or for a lesser offense based on the same facts may be instituted within the time established by statute or within six months from the date of dismissal, whichever is longer.
A new prosecution shall not be instituted following a dismissal of the prosecution by the district attorney unless the state shows that the dismissalwas not for the purpose of avoiding the time limitation for commencement of trial established.
Criminal statutes of limitations are important because this is a means by which a skilled defense attorney could successfully have a case dismissed.