Statutes of limitations set time limits for prosecutors 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 Iowa and most other states, violent crimes generally have longer statutes of limitations, and some crimes (like murder) 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.
Like many states, Iowa'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:
(Iowa Code §§ 802.1 to .10 (2019).)
Below are examples of time limits for specific crimes in Iowa. 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.
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.
Iowa law provides two types of extensions when DNA evidence is available.
First, for a list of specific offenses, the time limit for charging the offense is the later of: the time period set in statute or three years after identifying a suspect by DNA. This extension applies to sexual abuse in the first-, second, and third-degrees, certain sexual offenses against a child, kidnapping, and human trafficking of a child.
Second, in other felony and aggravated or serious misdemeanor cases, the law allows prosecutors to file criminal charges in a case using only a DNA profile. Filing the DNA profile tolls (suspends) the running of the time clock. Upon DNA identification, the prosecutor has three years to file charges against the identified suspect.
Iowa provides an extension to charge crimes that involve fraud or breach of fiduciary duty as a material element. If the limitations period has already expired, the prosecution has one year after discovery of the crime to bring the case, with a maximum extension of five years.
The law also extends a prosecutor's window to charge certain crimes relating to misconduct in public office or employment. The clock doesn't run during any time the defendant is a public officer or employee.
If a person tries to "evade" (avoid) arrest for a crime, the law gives the prosecutor extra time to file charges. In Iowa, the statute of limitations doesn't run while the defendant is not publicly resident in the state.
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.