Georgia Criminal Statute of Limitations

Georgia, like other states, sets time limits for bringing charges in a criminal case—called statutes of limitations. If the prosecution charges someone after the time period has passed, the person charged can have the case dismissed.

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 Georgia 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.

Statute of Limitations: Felonies and Misdemeanors

Like many states, Georgia’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:

  • seven years for felonies against victims younger than 18
  • seven years for felonies punishable by death or life imprisonment
  • four years for other felonies, and
  • two years for misdemeanors.

(Ga. Code §§ 17-3-1, -2, -2.1, 2.2, -3 (2019).)

Statute of Limitations for Specific Crimes

Below are examples of time limits for specific crimes in Georgia. 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.

Murder and Capital Crimes (Death Penalty)

  • Murder: no time limit
  • Capital crimes (examples: armed robbery, aircraft hijacking, treason): 7 years after the crime
  • Manslaughter: 7 years after the crime if victim is younger than 18, otherwise 4 years after the crime

Crimes Involving Minors Younger Than 16

The following crimes (committed on or after July 1, 2012) can be prosecuted at any time, if the victim was younger than 16:

  • Sex trafficking
  • First-degree cruelty to children
  • Rape
  • Aggravated sodomy
  • Child molestation (except misdemeanor violations)
  • Aggravated child molestation
  • Enticing a child for indecent purposes (except misdemeanor violations)
  • Incest

For the following crimes (committed between July 1, 1992 and June 30, 2012) where the victim was younger than 16, the time clock doesn't start until the victim turns 16 or the crime is reported to the authorities, whichever is earlier:

  • Cruelty to children
  • Rape
  • Sodomy and aggravated sodomy
  • Statutory rape
  • Child molestation and aggravated child molestation
  • Enticing a child for indecent purposes
  • Incest

Rape

  • Forcible rape: 15 years after the crime
  • Sexual battery: 7 years after the crime if victim is younger than 18, otherwise 2 years after the crime
  • Aggravated sexual battery: 7 years after the crime if victim is younger than 18, otherwise 4 years after the crime

Time Clock: Starting and Stopping

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, Georgia allows the prosecution to file charges at any time for the following crimes if DNA evidence is preserved and identifies the accused: armed robbery, kidnapping, rape, aggravated child molestation, aggravated sodomy, or aggravated sexual battery.

Misconduct in Public Office

If the defendant is a government officer or employee accused of stealing public property, the clock doesn’t run during any time the defendant was in that role.

Breach of Fiduciary Duty

Georgia law suspends the time clock for cases involving theft of a ward or beneficiary’s property by a guardian or trustee. The clock doesn’t run during the time the accused is in the role of guardian or trustee.

Crimes Against the Elderly

The law extends a prosecutor’s window to charge certain crimes committed against victims 65 or older. The time clock doesn’t begin to run until the violation is reported to or discovered by the authorities, whichever occurs earlier, up to a maximum extension of 15 years.

Evading (Avoiding) Prosecution

Also, if a person tries to “evade” (avoid) prosecution, the law gives the prosecutor extra time to file charges. In Georgia, the statute of limitations doesn’t run while the defendant is not usually and publicly a resident in the state, the defendant is unknown, or the crime is unknown.

Time to Talk to a Lawyer

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.

Talk to a Lawyer

Start here to find criminal defense lawyers near you.

How it Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you
DEFEND YOUR RIGHTS

Talk to a Defense attorney

We've helped 95 clients find attorneys today.

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you