Colorado Criminal Statute of Limitations

Colorado law sets time limits—called statutes of limitations—for bringing charges in criminal cases.

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 Colorado and most other states, violent crimes generally have longer statutes of limitations, and some crimes (like murder or sexual offense against a child) 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.

Statute of Limitations: Felonies, Misdemeanors, and Petty Offenses

Like many states, Colorado’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:

  • three years for felonies
  • 18 months for misdemeanors
  • one year for class 1 and 2 misdemeanor traffic offenses, and
  • six months for petty offenses.

(Colo. Rev. Stat. § 16-5-401 (2019).)

Statute of Limitations: Specific Crimes

Below are examples of time limits for specific crimes in Colorado. 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. (Changes to limitations periods made by the legislature apply only to crimes not yet time-barred, and cannot revive cases where the statute of limitations has already expired.)

Murder, Manslaughter, and Homicide

  • Murder or attempted murder: no time limit
  • Hit-and-run involving death: 5 years after the crime
  • Manslaughter: 3 years after the crime

Sexual Assault Crimes

  • Sex offense against a child (as defined in § 18-3-411(1)): no time limit
  • Felony sexual assault involving a victim younger than 18: 20 years after victim turns 18
  • Felony sexual assault involving victim 18 or older: 20 years after the crime
  • Felony unlawful sexual contact involving a victim younger than 18: 10 years after victim turns 18.
  • Felony unlawful sexual contact involving victim 18 or older: 10 years after the crime
  • Misdemeanor unlawful sexual contact: 5 years after the crime, but if the victim was younger than 15, the time period is extended an additional 3 years and 6 months

Tolling the Statute of Limitations

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.

DNA evidence. For instance, Colorado law allows sexual assault cases where DNA evidence is available to be prosecuted at any time if: (1) the victim reports the crime to law enforcement within 20 years of the offense, and (2) the suspect’s identity is established using DNA.

Theft-related crimes. Colorado delays starting the time clock until the discovery of certain theft-related crimes, including theft, cybercrime, embezzlement, bribery, organized crime, insurance fraud, and securities fraud.

Misconduct in public office. The law extends a prosecutor’s window by three years to charge certain crimes relating to misconduct in, or abuse of, public office. The clock also doesn’t start to run on these offenses until their discovery.

Fleeing the state. If a person tries to “evade” (avoid) arrest for a crime, the law gives the prosecutor extra time to file charges. In Colorado, the statute of limitations doesn’t run while the defendant is absent from the state, for up to five years.

Time to Talk to a Lawyer

Statutes of limitations are confusing to say the least. Plus, the same conduct can be the basis for multiple criminal charges, meaning that more than one limitations period could apply. Consult a knowledgeable attorney in your area to understand how the statutes of limitations apply in a specific case.

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