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 Arkansas and most other states, violent crimes generally have longer statutes of limitations, and some crimes (like murder and child rape) have no statute of limitations—meaning a criminal case can be filed at any time. In certain instances, statutes of limitations are "tolled" (suspended), allowing the government more time to bring a case.
Like many states, Arkansas 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 and offense level of the crime. The general time limits are:
(Ark. Code § 5-1-109 (2019).)
Below are examples of time limits for specific crimes in Arkansas. 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. No time limit exists if DNA can provide evidence of the alleged perpetrator's identity.
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 be particularly scared to report it, the law might delay the starting of the time clock or extend the limitations period.
For instance, Arkansas law allows the prosecutor to "stop the clock" by filing charges using only biological evidence (under circumstances where the genetic information is likely applicable to the unknown suspect). As noted above, there's no time limit for prosecution if DNA evidence implicates a person in a crime.
Arkansas delays starting the time clock, up to a maximum of three years, if discovery of fraud was not reasonably possible at the time the fraud was committed. For motor vehicle insurance fraud involving an intentional accident, the extension goes up to a maximum of 10 years.
Any offense involving fraud or breach of fiduciary duty can be prosecuted within one year after the offense is discovered or should have been discovered.
The law extends a prosecutor's window to charge certain crimes committed against minors. For any of the following offenses that have not been reported to authorities, the time clock doesn't begin to run until the victim turns 18: battery in the first and second degrees, aggravated assault, terroristic threatening in the first degree, kidnapping, false imprisonment in the first degree, and permanent detention or restraint.
A concealed offense involving felonious conduct by a public servant can be prosecuted within five years after: the person leaves office or employment or the offense is discovered or should have been discovered. The maximum extension is 10 years from when the misconduct occurred.
Also, if a person tries to "evade" (avoid) arrest for a crime, the law gives the prosecutor extra time to file charges. In Arkansas, the statute of limitations doesn't run while the defendant is absent from the state or has no place of abode or work in the state, for up to three years.
Statutes of limitations are confusing to say the least. In addition to identifying the time limit applicable to a specific crime, one must navigate exceptions, exclusions, extensions, court interpretations, and legislative changes. Consult a knowledgeable attorney in your area to understand how the statutes of limitations apply in a specific case.