Statutes of limitations set time limits for the government to bring criminal charges in a case. If the prosecution charges someone after the applicable time period has passed, the person charged can have the case dismissed.
In Alabama and most other states, violent crimes generally have longer statutes of limitations, and some crimes (like murder and sex offenses) have no statute of limitations—meaning a criminal case can be filed at any time.
Like many states, Alabama's law sets time limits for a host of specific crimes. For crimes not specifically listed in the statute, a general statute of limitations applies based on the category of the crime.
The general time limits are:
Below are examples of time limits for specific crimes in Alabama. Keep in mind that the following is a partial list that broadly summarizes the law. You should look at the actual law for nuances, exceptions, and legislative changes. And know that court rulings can affect the interpretation of the law.
(Ala. Code §§ 15-3-1 to 15-3-8 (2020).)
No time limits for prosecution exist for:
Generally, the statute of limitations starts when the crime occurs. But in circumstances where it's difficult to discover the crime or a victim might not be able to report it, the law might delay the starting of the time clock or extend the limitations period.
Deceptive practices. For instance, Alabama law extends a prosecutor's window to charge crimes involving theft of property by deception. The prosecutor has five years after discovery (rather than commission) of the offense to bring charges.
Trafficking and child abuse. Alabama law also suspends the running of the clock in human trafficking and child abuse cases. If trafficking involved an adult victim, the prosecutor can file charges within five years of the victim escaping or being removed from the situation. For child trafficking or child abuse (physical or sexual) cases, the clock doesn't begin to run until the victim turns 19.
Statutes of limitations are confusing to say the least. The same conduct can be the basis for multiple criminal charges, meaning that more than one limitations period could apply. And because lawmakers can make changes to statutes of limitations, the time limit currently in law might not apply to a past crime. Consult a knowledgeable attorney in your area to understand how the statutes of limitations apply in a specific case.