Alabama Criminal Statute of Limitations

Statutes of limitations set time limits for a prosecutor to bring charges in a criminal case. Learn about the criminal statutes of limitations in Alabama.

By , Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated February 02, 2024

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.

Alabama's Statutes of Limitations for Felonies and Misdemeanors

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:

(Ala. Code §§ 15-3-1, 15-3-2 (2024).)

Alabama's Statute of Limitations for Specific Crimes

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.

Murder, Sex Offenses, and Serious Felonies

No time limits for prosecution exist for:

  • Capital offenses (defined as murder committed under certain circumstances)
  • Sex offenses (defined under sex offender registration act) involving a victim younger than 16
  • Felony involving use, attempted use, or threat of violence
  • Felony involving serious physical injury or death
  • Felony arson
  • Felony drug trafficking

    Theft and Fraud-Related Crimes

    • Felony forgery and felony counterfeiting: no time limit
    • Conversion (theft) of public revenue: 6 years after the crime
    • Felony theft (more than $500): 5 years after the crime
    • Misdemeanor theft ($500 or less): 1 year after the crime

    (Ala. Code §§ 15-3-1 to 15-3-8 (2024).)

    When Does the Statute of Limitations Start in Alabama?

    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.

    Time to Talk to a Lawyer

    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.

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