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Criminal Statute of Limitations – How long do they have?

The term ‘Statute of Limitations’ (SOL) refers to the time period under which a case can be brought.  If the time passes, then the SOL operates to bar the case and the plaintiff is out of luck.  There is a SOL for almost every type of case. In criminal cases, the time limit is expressed in a term of years depending on the offense. Sometimes people feel that if it took several months to receive a criminal citation, then that should be enough to have the case dismissed. Unfortunately, so long as prosecution is started within the time frame allowed then, a delay of several months will not win the matter. 

If criminal charges are filed, then the warrant or summons must be executed or served without unreasonable delays. In determining what is reasonable, the inability to locate the accused after a diligent search or the defendant’s absence from the state has to be considered. In criminal cases, the period of limitations does not run for any time when the accused is continuously absent from the state or has no reasonably ascertainable residence or work place within Florida. This notion of pausing or stopping the running of the clock on the SOL is known as ‘tolling’ the period of time.

The Supreme Court recently clarified what the government has to show to toll the period when a person is absent from Florida. Depending on where the case was located, the State may have had to prove a diligent search for a defendant before tolling the limitations period regardless of whether the person was in the state or not.  In a clear fact pattern, with stipulated evidence, showing that the accused was absolutely out of the state for the time, the Florida Supreme Court held that the State does NOT have to show that the government conducted a diligent search for the accused. Now, therefore, when the State has established that the defendant was continuously absent from Florida, there is no burden to prove that there was a diligent search and there is no burden to prove that the absence hindered prosecution.

While this may seem like a minor distinction, defendants who would have won their cases based upon the government’s failure to act may no longer qualify for that constitutional protection due to this new interpretation. However, the point should not go unnoticed that in that new case the defendant stipulated that he was out of the state. The case may have turned out differently if that person had not been forced to stipulate his absence and instead required the government to prove their case.

The law is ever changing; do not try this at home. Please click, call or fill out the form to hire a lawyer to handle your criminal case.

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Fla. Stat. Sec. 775.15

Robinson v. State SC15-233

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