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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 Illinois and most other states, violent crimes generally have longer statutes of limitations, and some crimes (like murder or sexual assault) 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.
Statutes of Limitations: Felonies and Misdemeanors
Like many states, Illinois 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 Illinois. Keep in mind that the following is a partial list that broadly summarizes the law. You should look at the actual law for additional time limits, 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, Homicide, and Manslaughter
First- and second-degree murder: no time limit
Involuntary manslaughter: no time limit
Reckless homicide: no time limit
Hit and run involving death or personal injuries: no time limit
Sexual Assault and Trafficking Crimes
Any offense involving sexual conduct or sexual penetration (as defined by § 11-0.1): no time limit
Failure to report alleged or suspected sexual assault or abuse of a child under the Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act: 20 years after the child victim attains 18 years of age
Misdemeanor criminal sexual abuse of child victim: 10 years after child victim attains 18 years of age
Trafficking, involuntary servitude, and involuntary sexual servitude of a child: 25 years after child victim attains 18 years of age
Trafficking and involuntary servitude of victim 18 and older: 25 years after crime
Child Pornography and Prostitution Crimes
Production of child pornography under § 11-20.1 (a) (1): no time limit
Other crimes related to child pornography and aggravated child pornography: one year after victim turns 18, provided the time period shall never expire sooner than three years after the offense
Indecent solicitation of a child, exploitation of a child: one year after victim turns 18, provided the time period shall never expire sooner than three years after the offense
Soliciting a juvenile prostitute, juvenile pimping: one year after victim turns 18, provided the time period shall never expire sooner than three years after the offense
Breach of Fiduciary Duties
Breach of fiduciary duties where victim is a minor or under a legal disability: within one year of termination of such status
Other breaches of fiduciary duties: one year after discovery of the offense or within one year after prosecuting officer becomes aware of offense, up to a maximum additional three years
Misconduct in public office: one year after discovery of the offense or within one year after prosecuting officer becomes aware of offense, up to a maximum additional three years
Forgery and Theft-Related Offenses
Forgery: no time limit
Theft of property exceeding $100,000: 7 years after last act committed in furtherance of the crime
Identity theft and aggravated identify theft: 7 years after last act committed in furtherance of the crime (extended limitations statute allows commencement 5 years after victim discovers offense)
Financial exploitation of an elderly person or person with a disability: 7 years after last act committed in furtherance of the crime
(720 Ill. Comp. Stat. §§ 5/3-5, 5/3-6 (2019).)
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 person is evading (avoiding) arrest, the law might suspend (or toll) the limitations period.
In Illinois, the statute of limitations does not include any period of time:
the defendant is not usually and publicly resident in the state
a defendant is a public officer and is charged with theft of public funds while in office
a prosecution is pending against the defendant for the same conduct
a material witness is on active military duty or leave
sexual assault evidence is being analyzed by the Department of State Police, or
a victim of unlawful force or threat of imminent bodily harm to obtain information or a confession is incarcerated, and the victim's incarceration is a consequence of the force or threats.
(720 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/3-7 (2019).)
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.