California Criminal Statute of Limitations

California has comprehensive—and complicated—rules regarding statutes of limitations for criminal cases.

California has comprehensive—and complicated—rules regarding statutes of limitations for criminal cases. The statute of limitations specifies the time period within which a case must be commenced by the state. With certain offenses, there is no statute of limitations which means the state is never barred from bringing a legal action against someone for that type of offense.

Unlike many states which have only a few broad categories of offenses, California has numerous specified offenses with different statutes of limitations for each one. California also has many exceptions and tolling provisions which grant the state additional time to commence a legal action depending on the particular circumstances of the case. For example, the normal statute of limitations period is usually extended or inapplicable in cases involving minors or in rape cases if DNA evidence is used. There are many other exceptions to the general rules; you should check with an attorney if you need help determining how the rules apply to a specific set of facts.

Below is a summary of the California statute of limitation rules for criminal cases.

California Pen. § § 799 - 803

There is no statute of limitations for

  • offenses punishable by death or life imprisonment or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole
  • the embezzlement of public money
  • cases where the defendant is a minor and the prosecuting attorney could have requested a fitness hearing under Section 707 of the Welfare and Institutions Code

Specified Time Periods for Offenses

Offenses punishable by imprisonment for eight years or more (some exceptions apply): 6 years

Other offenses punishable by imprisonment (some exceptions): 3 years

Crimes against elders and dependent adults (except for theft or embezzlement): 5 years from date of offense

Offenses involving the production of pornographic material with minors: 10 years

Failure to register as a sex offender: 10 years

Misdemeanors: 1 year after the date of the offense

Specified misdemeanors committed upon a minor under the age of 14: 3 years from date of offense

Sexual offense by physician or therapist with patient: 2 years

4 year statute of limitations from discovery or date of offense for:

  • an offense punishable by imprisonment involving fraud or breach of a fiduciary obligation
  • theft or embezzlement upon an elder or dependent adult
  • misconduct in office by a public officer, employee, or appointee involving certain specified acts

Exceptions and Tolling Provisions

  • Certain felony sex crimes against victims under 18 may be commenced any time prior to the victim's 28th birthday, or within 10 years after commission of the offense under certain conditions
  • For a sexual crime against a victim younger than 18 where the statute of limitations has run, case can be commenced within 1 year of the date a report is filed with a state law enforcement agency, provided there is admissible, independent corroborating evidence
  • A rape or sex charge may be filed within one year of the date DNA is used to establish identity of the suspect
  • For certain offenses, statute of limitations does not begin to run until the offense has been, or could reasonably have been discovered
  • Statute of limitations tolled if the defendant is out of the state, up to a maximum of three years
  • Statute of limitations tolled during any period in which a case is pending in the state against the same person for the same conduct
  • Statute of limitations is tolled until discovery of offense in cases involving procuring or offering false or forged instrument for record in any public office or using someone else’s personal identifying information for any unlawful purpose
  • For any crime where evidentiary privilege or attorney work product claim keeps evidence from prosecuting authority, the statute of limitations is tolled until disclosure of the evidence to the prosecuting authority
  • Certain misdemeanors relating to contractor and licensing violations under the Business and Professions Code have specified statutes of limitations ranging from one year to four years

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