Massachusetts Criminal Statute of Limitations

Massachusetts, like other states, sets time limits for bringing charges in a criminal case. If the prosecution charges someone after the applicable time period has passed, the person charged can have the case dismissed.

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.

In Massachusetts and most other states, violent crimes generally have longer statutes of limitations, and some crimes (like murder and 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.

Statute of Limitations: Felonies and Misdemeanors

Like many states, Massachusetts’s law sets time limits for a host of specific crimes. For crimes not specifically listed in the statute, a general statute of limitations—six years after the crime—applies.

(Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 277, § 63 (2019).)

Statute of Limitations: Specific Crimes

Below are examples of time limits for specific crimes in Massachusetts. 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.

Murder and Manslaughter

  • Murder: no time limit
  • Manslaughter: 6 years after the offense

Sexual Offenses Involving Minors

The following offenses have no time limit. But, if filed more than 27 years after the crime, the prosecutor must have independent, corroborating evidence in addition to the victim’s testimony.

  • Rape of a child younger than 16
  • Assault of child younger than 16 with intent to commit rape
  • Indecent assault and battery of child younger than 14
  • Sexual abuse of a child younger than 18
  • Sex trafficking of child younger than 18

Other Rape and Sexual Offenses

  • Rape committed by force or threat of force: 15 years after the offense
  • Assault with intent to commit rape: 15 years after the offense
  • Sex trafficking: 15 years after the offense
  • Incestuous marriage or sexual activities: 10 years after the offense

Crimes Against Vulnerable Victims

  • Indecent assault and battery on a person with intellectual disability: no time limit (need independent, corroborating evidence after 27 years)
  • Assault with intent to rob or murder victim age 60 or older: 10 years after the offense
  • Robbery of victim age 60 or older: 10 years after the offense
  • Stealing by confining or putting fear into victim age 60 or older: 10 years after the offense

Time Clock: Starting and Stopping

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.

Crimes Against Minors Younger Than 16

Massachusetts law extends a prosecutor’s window to charge certain crimes committed against victims younger than 16. The time clock doesn’t begin to run until the victim turns 16 or the violation is reported to a law enforcement agency, whichever occurs earlier. Examples of such crimes include drugging a minor for sexual intercourse, enticing a minor to commit sex or prostitution, dissemination of harmful matters to minors, and unlawful and lascivious acts.

Fleeing the State

Also, if a person tries to “evade” (avoid) prosecution, the law gives the prosecutor extra time to file charges. In Massachusetts, the statute of limitations doesn’t run while the defendant is not usually and publicly a resident in the state.

Time to Talk to a Lawyer

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.

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