In Texas, the majority of crimes have a statute of limitations. This is a limit on the time period a prosecutor has to file formal charges against a suspect. Under most circumstances, if this time has passed, you cannot be prosecuted for the crime.
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Generally, the criminal statute of limitations is shorter for misdemeanors than for felonies. For some crimes, there is no statute of limitations. These regulations are laid out in Article 12.01 et seq. of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure.
The time limit typically starts when the crime is committed, however in some cases it begins when the crime should have been discovered. Certain circumstances can also cause the statute of limitations to be extended, and for some crimes, there is no time limit.
Why Is There a Time Limit on Prosecuting Criminal Charges?
Over time, physical evidence can get lost, contaminated or broken down. Witnesses’ memories fade. This makes it more difficult to accurately identify a suspect years down the road. Time limits on prosecuting certain criminal charges protect defendants from unfair prosecution. Only certain types of crimes have no time limit.
Time Limits for Specific Crimes
The statute of limitations for misdemeanors is 2 years. These crimes include possession of marijuana up to 2 ounces; theft of property less than $50; misdemeanor assault; and prostitution.
The time limitation for felonies varies depending on the crime. Here are some common time limits outlined in the Tex.Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art 12.01 et seq.:
- 10 years: Theft by a public servant of government property; theft by the administrator of an estate; forgery; injury to the elderly/disabled; sexual assault; arson; compelling prostitution.
- 7 years: Money laundering; credit card abuse; Medicaid fraud.
- 5 years: All other types of theft, kidnapping; burglary; endangering a child; insurance fraud.
- 3 years: Felonies not specifically mentioned in the code section, including felony assault charges and drug trafficking.
Crimes with No Statute of Limitations
For some crimes that are particularly reprehensible, there is no statute of limitations. A prosecutor can file charges at any time after the crime occurs.
These crimes include:
- Manslaughter (including involuntary and voluntary manslaughter)
- Human trafficking
- Certain types of sex offenses, including sexual abuse of a child
In addition to the above, on September 1, 2017, a new law went into effect in Texas — SB 998 — removing the limitations period on criminal cases that involve the exploitation of a child, the elderly and disabled individuals.
Extending the Statute of Limitations
Under certain circumstances, the statute of limitations may be extended.
If the victim of a crime is under the age of 17 when the crime occurred, the time limit is typically extended.
For crimes that do have a statutory limitations, sometimes the time limit can be put on hold. For example, the limit may be suspended for time the accused is absent from the state.
Answers to You Frequently Asked Questions About Criminal Charges
First, be prepared to answer a LOT of questions, both about yourself and the case. You may also need to bring a filled in questionnaire or a list of documents, including but not limited to:
– All documentation related to your arrest
– Documents from the court showing the exact charges and next court dates.
– Bail paperwork
– A list of possible witnesses and their contact information.
– Evidence such as video, phone messages, photos, or documents that could be helpful.
Last, come prepared with questions of your own. You need to make sure the lawyer you’re meeting with is the right one for you.
We have three main tips for picking a lawyer for your case.
Tip 1– Don’t go for the lowest price. Less expensive lawyers deal in higher volumes, which means you may end up speaking to an assistant instead of directly to the lawyer.
Tip 2– Look at their experience. You need someone who knows cases that are similar to yours.
Tip 3– Have they tried a lot of cases in front of juries? Experience in front of juries and their success rate can be very good indicators of future success.
Unlike your credit report, which only goes back 7-10 years, a criminal record can follow you around your whole life. It is possible, under certain circumstances, to have your arrest records expunged or sealed (aka Orders of Non-Disclosure), but you’ll need an experienced attorney to navigate the process.
Statute of Limitations and Criminal Defense
Clients who have been accused of a crime a long time after the crime occurred may wonder why it took so long for charges to be filed and whether that could help the defense of their case.
If a prosecutor files charges after the time limit has passed, this information can be used by a criminal defense attorney to get the charges dropped.
Have you been charged with a crime in Texas? Contact Houston criminal attorney Lisa Shapiro Strauss today for help. Ms. Strauss has helped those facing criminal charges for more than 15 years and is committed to protecting her clients’ rights throughout every phase of their case.