Like most states, Florida 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 the case even if a defendant is guilty. This article will briefly review how Florida'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 Florida and most other states, the time limits depend on the offense level or the specific crime. For instance, a prosecutor might have four 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 child rape) may 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 Florida Legislature has amended (changed) its law on statutes of limitations numerous times. You might want to consult with an attorney if you have questions on a particular issue.
Like many states, Florida'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.
Felonies punishable by death or life in prison have no statute of limitations. A felony that results in a victim's death also has no limitations period. The general time limits for other crimes are:
Below are examples of time limits for specific crimes in Florida. Keep in mind that the following is a partial list that broadly summarizes the law. You should look at the actual law for nuances and exceptions.
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, Florida law allows certain crimes to be prosecuted at any time if DNA evidence was collected during the original investigation and establishes the accused's identity. The list of specified crimes includes aggravated or felony battery, kidnapping, false imprisonment, sexual battery, burglary, robbery, and aggravated child abuse.
Sex offenses against minors. For certain sex offenses committed against victims younger than 18, the clock doesn't start to run until a victim reaches age 18 or the crime is reported, whichever occurs earlier.
Fraud or fiduciary duties. Florida allows extra time for the prosecutor to file charges for offenses based on fraud or breach of fiduciary duties. Upon discovery of the offense by the injured party or the injured party's representative, the prosecutor has one year to file charges (so long as the original limitations period is not extended by more than three years). If the victim is an elderly or disabled adult, the prosecutor can file within five years of discovering the fraud or breach.
Misconduct in public office. The law extends a prosecutor's window to charge crimes relating to misconduct in public office or employment. The prosecutor can charge the offense anytime while the person remains in, or within two years of the person leaving, public office or employment.
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 Florida, the statute of limitations doesn't run while the defendant is continuously absent from the state or has no known place of residence or work, with a maximum extension of three years.
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.
(Fla. Stat. § 775.15 (2024).)