Criminal Statute of Limitations in Texas
- June 8, 2016
- The Law Office of Greg Tsioros
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The Texas Statute of Limitations
In order to ensure that defendants are given a fair trial when they are accused of a crime, the Texas justice system has established a statute of limitations. This legal precedent establishes timelines during which a person can be prosecuted for a particular offense. Past a certain length of time, a person may be exempt from prosecution for such an offense.
The statute of limitations may vary widely between different types of criminal offenses. In fact, for some serious offenses, the statute of limitations never expires. Also, there are certain instances when the statute of limitations might be altered.
Defining the Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations is an essential part of the modern criminal justice system. It has a precedent in legal proceedings going back hundreds of years. At its core, the statute of limitations is used to protect the legal rights of a person who is accused of a crime.
The fact is that many criminal cases are decided based on a few pieces of critical evidence. This evidence may take the form of eyewitness testimony, DNA residue or fingerprints at the scene of the crime. The problem is that, in most cases, the quality of evidence degrades over time.
Memories fade, biological evidence is obscured and case files are sometimes misplaced. Because the criminal justice system exists to ensure fair trials for the accused, it stands to reason that a case cannot be pursued fairly if some of the crucial evidence is flawed or missing.
This is the reason that there is a time limit for prosecutors to formally file charges against defendants. If the charges are not filed within that time frame, it is possible that the defendant may never be charged with the associated offense.
Texas Statute of Limitations Examples
When talking about the statute of limitations in Texas, it’s important to understand how this statute is applied. For example, misdemeanor offenses may have a shorter statute of limitations when compared to serious felony offenses.
This is because of the perceived severity of a particular offense. Although the statute of limitations exists to protect defendants, the fact remains that this statute may allow a potentially guilty person to escape prosecution. While this is not so serious for a minor offense, such as theft, it could be very serious for a case involving a violent robbery or murder. For this reason, the statute of limitations is much longer for serious felony offenses in order to decrease the likelihood that a slowly developed criminal case will allow a guilty person to escape prosecution.
Here are some examples of the length of the statute of limitations for various offenses in Texas
- Possession of two ounces or less of marijuana – 2 years
- Theft of property valued at $50 or less – 2 years
- Engaging in pimping – 2 years
- Robbery – 5 years
- Endangering a child – 5 years
- Credit card fraud – 7 years
- Arson – 10 years
- Forgery – 10 years
As can be seen in the above list, offenses which have the potential to cause serious harm have a longer statute of limitations. In some cases, certain offenses are judged to be so serious that a statute of limitations does not apply.
- Human trafficking
- Offenses involving young children
For these offenses, a person may be formally charged with the crime no matter how much time has passed since the commission of the offense.
Tolling the Statute
In certain cases, the justice system may make use of a legal measure known as “tolling” the statute of limitations. In such cases, the statute of limitations may not take effect until a certain milestone has been reached. This milestone is usually related to the age of the victim involved in a crime.
Some of the offenses for which tolling can be used include injury to a child, sexual performance by a child, and aggravated kidnapping of a person under 17 years of age. For these offenses, the statute of limitations may be tolled until the victim reaches their 18th birthday.
For example, Susan is the victim of an aggravated kidnapping when she is 10 years old. In her case, the statute of limitations will not take effect until the day she turns 18. The day Susan turns 18, the statute of limitations will allow formal charges to be brought for 20 years after her 18th birthday.
The statute of limitations can have a serious impact on a criminal case. Consult with a lawyer to find out if the statute of limitations might change the way that a particular case is prosecuted.
Have you committed a crime in Texas? Greg Tsioros is a criminal defense attorney based in Houston, TX that has the experience needed to help you. Contact his office today at 832-752-5972.