Like most states, Arizona sets time limits for prosecutors to begin a criminal case against a suspect. These time limits—called statutes of limitations—can put an end to a case even if a defendant is guilty. This article will briefly review how Arizona's statutes of limitations work and what they are for several crimes.
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 Arizona and most other states, the time limits depend on the offense level or the specific crime. For instance, a prosecutor might have 10 years to file most felony charges but only one year to file misdemeanor charges. Violent crimes generally have longer statutes of limitations, and some crimes (like murder or terrorism) 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. (More on "tolling" below.)
Lawmakers can change limitations periods. For example, they could change the statute of limitations for child sex crimes from 10 years to 25 years. But whether changes apply to past crimes depends on a couple of factors. Importantly, a new time limit created by the legislature doesn't apply if the prosecutor had already run out of time to file the charges.
The Arizona Legislature has amended (changed) its law on statutes of limitations several times. You might want to consult with an attorney if you have questions on a particular issue.
Like many states, Arizona'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 Arizona. 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.
In most states, the statute of limitations starts when the crime occurs. But Arizona's law starts the clock running when the crime is or should have been discovered. This rule is particularly helpful to prosecutors in cases where circumstances make it difficult to discover the crime (such as fraud or abuse cases).
The law also tolls (or suspends) the limitations period in instances listed below—allowing prosecutors extra time to file charges where the defendant might be attempting to avoid the authorities.
Absent from the state. In Arizona, the statute of limitations doesn't run while the defendant is absent from the state or doesn't have a known residence in the state.
Unknown suspect. The clock also doesn't run for "serious offenses" while the offender's identity is unknown. A list of serious offenses can be found in statute (§ 13-706) and includes armed robbery, burglary in the first degree, kidnapping, and child sex trafficking.
Statutes of limitations can be confusing, especially when exceptions apply. Also, a crime that results in several charges could have more than one limitations period. Consult a knowledgeable attorney in your area to understand how the statutes of limitations apply in a specific case.
(Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 13-107 (2022).)