Prosecutors usually have a limited amount of time to charge someone with a crime. Failing to file charges within the time limits—called "statutes of limitations"—can result in the case being dismissed. Read below to find out about Louisiana's statutes of limitations for several types of crimes.
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 can have the case dismissed.
In Louisiana and most other states, the time limits depend on the offense level or the specific crime. Violent crimes generally have longer statutes of limitations, and some crimes (like murder and first or second degree rape) have no statute of limitations—meaning a criminal case can be filed at any time. In certain situations, statutes of limitations are "tolled" (suspended), allowing the government more time to bring a case.
Lawmakers can and do change limitations periods. For example, in 2005, the legislature changed the time limit for certain sex offenses committed on minors, increasing it from 10 years to 30 years after the victim turns 18. But whether changes apply to past crimes depends on a couple of factors and can be complicated. Importantly, a new time limit doesn't apply if the prosecutor had already run out of time to file the charges.
You might want to consult with an attorney if you have questions about a specific statute of limitations.
Louisiana's Statutes of Limitations for Felonies and Misdemeanors
Like many states, Louisiana'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:
(La. Code Crim. Proc. arts. 571 to 577 (2022); State v. Aucoin, 457 So.2d 885 (La. Ct. App. 1984).)
Louisiana's Statutes of Limitations for Specific Crimes
Below are examples of time limits for specific crimes in Louisiana. Keep in mind that the following is a partial list that broadly summarizes the law. You should look at the actual law for nuances and exceptions, and know that court rulings can affect the interpretation of the law.
Time Limits for Murder, Manslaughter, and Homicide Charges in Louisiana
Time Limits for Rape and Sex Offense Charges in Louisiana
Time Limits for Theft-Related Offenses in Louisiana
When Does the Statute of Limitations Start in Louisiana?
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.
Here are some examples of situations where the time clock is delayed:
Louisiana law allows any sex offense case where DNA evidence is available to be prosecuted within three years of establishing the suspect's identity using DNA evidence.
In Louisiana, the clock doesn't start ticking for the following crimes involving breach of trust until the relationship (such as attorney-client) or status (like being in public office) ends:
Louisiana law also delays starting the time clock for any crime committed against "persons with infirmities" until a competent victim or law enforcement officer discovers the crime. Examples of persons with infirmities include adults with disabilities (including disabilities resulting from advanced age), and residents of nursing homes, mental health facilities, or hospitals.
If a person tries to "evade" (avoid) arrest or prosecution by fleeing or remaining outside the state, the law gives the prosecutor extra time to file charges. In Louisiana, the statute of limitations doesn't run any time while the defendant is absent from the state.
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 limitation period could apply. Consult a knowledgeable attorney in your area to understand how the statutes of limitations apply in a specific case.