What is the statute of limitations for criminal cases in Utah and how does it differ for misdemeanors and felonies?
A quiet case doesn’t mean a closed case
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Sometimes when a crime has occurred, the person suspected of the crime is questioned, arrested, and soon after faces their day in court. Other times, the case can drag on as law enforcement and prosecutors gather evidence and testimonies in order to build their case against the suspect. When there has been no activity or questioning related to the case for weeks or months at a time, it may give those involved a false sense of security that they have somehow dodged an arrest and are in the clear. Imagine their surprise down the road when the investigation picks up speed and they end up facing charges after all. This may not seem fair and those facing delayed charges may wonder why so much time is able to pass while they remained in legal limbo. Surprisingly however, Utah law grants law enforcement and prosecutors a lengthy window of time to file criminal charges, with some cases being granted no limit on time.
Time limit for criminal charges
Most cases have a set amount of time that they can remain in “waiting” for prosecutors to conjure up charges. This time limit to file charges is known as the statute of limitations. According to Utahcourts.gov, “A statute of limitations is the time allowed to file a court case. Statutes of limitation apply in both civil and criminal cases. The statute of limitations for some cases is as short as six months, while some serious criminal offenses have no limit and can be files at any time, even decades after the crime occurred. Most statutes of limitation range from one to eight years.” Once the statute of limitations for that crime is over, any suspects in the case will be free any possibility of facing charges as Utah Courts declare “. . . the defendant cannot be prosecuted for that offense.”
Criminal statute of limitations
Photo by: Marcin Wichary
The waiting game is difficult, especially when one is waiting to see if their life will drastically change due to criminal charges. If someone knows what type of charge they could be facing, they may be able to have an idea of how long the case could legally sit open prior to charges being made. Some of these statutes of limitations can be found in Utah Code. Section 76-1-302 states:
• “any infraction shall be commenced within one year after it is committed”;
• “a misdemeanor other than negligent homicide shall be commenced within two years after it is committed;”
• A felony or negligent homicide shall be commenced within four years after it is committed, except that prosecution for:
o Forcible sexual abuse [or incest] shall be commenced within eight years after the offense is committed, if within four years after its commission the offense is reported to a law enforcement agency”.
No time limits for some charges
There are some offenses where “. . . prosecution . . . may be commenced at any time” according to Utah Code 76-1-301. These offenses include:
(a) “Capital felony;
(b) Aggravated murder;
(e) Child abuse homicide;
(f) Aggravated kidnapping;
(g) Child kidnapping;
(i) Rape of a child;
(j) Object rape;
(k) Object rape of a child;
(l) Forcible sodomy;
(m) Forcible sodomy on a child;
(n) Sexual abuse of a child;
(o) Aggravated sexual abuse of a child;
(p) Aggravated sexual assault
(q) Any predicate offense to a murder or aggravating offense to an aggravated murder;
(r) Aggravated human trafficking or aggravated human smuggling . . . ;
(s) Aggravated exploitation of prostitution involving a child.
Section 76-1-302 adds that prosecution on some of the major offenses “. . . may be commenced at any time if the identity of the person who committed the crime is unknown but DNA evidence is collected that would identify the person at a later date. [This] does not apply if the statute of limitations on a crime has run as of May 5, 2003, and no charges have been filed.”
Legal counsel prior to charges
While the above statute of limitations can give a person an idea of how long a case will remain open, there are other factors that can change the time limit given on a case. Some statute of limitations don’t begin when the offense was committed. Others may have the timer paused along the way. When legal trouble is imminent or on the distant horizon, it is always wise to have a reputable legal defense in your corner. An experienced criminal defense attorney can aid a client in knowing exactly what charges could be faced, the statute of limitations for those charges, and when the statute of limitations clock starts and finishes for each specific case. For all criminal matters, contact a defense attorney today.