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.
Kentucky’s laws on criminal statutes of limitations are unusual. Unlike most states, which specify different time periods for different types of crimes, Kentucky’s laws are very basic.
General time limits. Felonies have no statute of limitations, meaning a felony criminal charges can be filed at any time. With one exception, all other types of offenses—misdemeanors and violations—must be filed in one year of the crime being committed.
Specific time limit. The one exception to the general misdemeanor time limit is for a sex offense committed against a minor. Instead of the one-year time limit, these cases can be commenced within five years of the victim turning 18.
Offense definitions. 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. 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.
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.
(Ky. Rev. Stat. § 500.050 (2019).)
Statutes of limitations are a defense that the criminal defendant must raise in the case. If a prosecutor charges a case where the limitations period has run, the case will go forward unless the issue is raised by the defendant. 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.