Like most states, Illinois sets time limits for the government to begin a criminal case against a suspect. These time limits—called statutes of limitations—put an end to a case even if a defendant is guilty. This article will briefly review how Illinois' statutes of limitations work and what they are for several crimes.
What Are Criminal Statutes of Limitations?
Statutes of limitations set time limits for the government to bring criminal charges in a case. If the applicable time period has passed, the defendant can ask the court to dismiss the expired charges.
How Long After a Crime Can Charges Be Filed in Illinois?
In Illinois (and most other states), the time limits depend on the offense level or the specific crime. For instance, a prosecutor might have three years to file many 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) 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.)
Can the Statutes of Limitations Change?
Yes, lawmakers can change limitation periods. For example, they could change the statute of limitations for theft by deception from 3 to 7 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 government has already run out of time to file the charges.
The Illinois General Assembly has amended (changed) its law on statutes of limitations several times. You might want to consult an attorney if you have questions on a particular issue.
Statutes of Limitations for Felonies and Misdemeanors in Illinois
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 offense level.
The general time limits are:
- 3 years for felonies, and
- 18 months for misdemeanors.
(720 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/3-5 (2024).)
Statutes of Limitations for Specific Crimes in Illinois
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 nuances, exceptions, and legislative changes.
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
- Criminal sexual assault, aggravated criminal sexual assault, and aggravated criminal sexual abuse: 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 turns 18
- Misdemeanor criminal sexual abuse of child victim: 10 years after child victim turns 18
- Trafficking, involuntary servitude, and involuntary sexual servitude of a child: 25 years after child victim turns 18
- Trafficking and involuntary servitude of victim 18 and older: 25 years after the 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 the 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 the 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 the 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 the 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 the discovery of the offense or the prosecutor becomes aware of the offense, up to a maximum additional three years
- Misconduct in public office: one year after discovery of the offense or the prosecutor becomes aware of the 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 the last act committed in furtherance of the crime
- Identity theft and aggravated identify theft: 7 years after the last act committed in furtherance of the crime or within 5 years of the victim discovering the offense
- Financial exploitation of an elderly person or person with a disability: 7 years after the last act committed in furtherance of the crime
- Theft by deception of a victim age 60 or older or a person with a disability: 7 years after the last act committed in furtherance of the crime
- Fraudulent activity connected with a COVID-relief program: 5 years after the discovery of the offense by a mandatory reporter or prosecutor, up to a maximum of 10 years beyond the original limitations period
(720 Ill. Comp. Stat. §§ 5/3-5, 5/3-6 (2024).)
When Does the Statutes of Limitations Start in Illinois?
In Illinois, the statute of limitations starts after the crime is committed. If the crime involves a series of acts (like fraud or embezzlement), the clock starts after the last act is committed. The clock stops when the indictment or information is filed.
As seen above, 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.
For instance, many fraud and official misconduct crimes delay starting the statute-of-limitations clock until after the crime is discovered. For certain offenses against minors, the clock doesn't start until the minor turns 18. The law also extends certain time limits where a victim is a minor. As an example, instead of 18 months to file charges for misdemeanor criminal sexual abuse against a minor, the law extends the time limit to 10 years after the victim turns 18.
When Are Statutes of Limitations Tolled in Illinois?
Certain actions or circumstances may pause—toll—the limitations period. In Illinois, the statute of limitations does not include any time during which:
- the defendant is absent from 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 placed on active military duty or leave
- sexual assault evidence is being analyzed by the Illinois 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 (2024).)
Time to Talk to a Lawyer
Statutes of limitations can be confusing, especially when exceptions apply. Also, a crime that results in several charges could have more than one limitations period. Consult a knowledgeable attorney in your area to understand how the statutes of limitations apply in a specific case.