Kentucky's statutes of limitations allow prosecutors complete discretion for filing felony charges. State law only sets time limits for charging misdemeanor cases, while felonies can be charged at any time. Below, we'll review Kentucky's criminal statutes of limitations and how they work.
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. This means that even if the defendant is guilty, the case must be thrown out if the statute of limitations has expired.
Kentucky's laws on criminal statutes of limitations are very basic. Most states have numerous time limits and exceptions based on offense level, type of crime, age of a victim, and other factors. Kentucky has only three limitation periods.
Felonies have no statute of limitations, meaning a prosecutor can file felony criminal charges at any time. A felony is any crime punishable by a year or more in state prison, which includes a broad range of crimes from murder to theft of property valued at $500 or more.
With one exception, all other types of offenses—misdemeanors and violations—must be filed within one year of the crime being committed. Misdemeanors carry penalties of less than a year in jail. Examples of misdemeanors include petty theft and simple assault. Violations are fine-only offenses (no possibility of jail time), such as traffic violations.
The one exception to the general misdemeanor time limit is for a misdemeanor sex offense committed against a minor. Instead of the one-year time limit, these cases can be commenced within 10 years of the victim turning 18. Examples of these crimes include child pornography, sexual exploitation of a minor, sexual abuse, and sexual misconduct.
Generally, statutes of limitations start when a crime occurs. Many states stop or suspend the running of the limitations "clock" in several instances, such as when a suspect leaves the state to avoid arrest or when DNA evidence is available. But Kentucky has just one tolling provision. When the victim of a misdemeanor sex offense is younger than 18, the law delays the starting of the clock until the victim turns 18.
Yes, lawmakers can change limitation periods. For example, in 2021, Kentucky changed the statute of limitations for misdemeanor sex offenses involving child victims, so that the prosecutor can file charges anytime up until a victim turns 28 rather than 23. But new time limits can't revive past cases where the time limit has already expired. They can only apply to crimes committed after the law changed and crimes committed before the law changed only so long as the prosecutor hadn't already run out of time to file the charges.
If you have questions on statutes of limitations, consult a knowledgeable attorney in your area to understand how the law applies in a specific case.
(Ky. Rev. Stat. § 500.050 (2022).)