Like most states, Michigan sets time limits for prosecutors to begin a criminal case against a suspect. These time limits—called statutes of limitations—can put an end to the case even if a defendant is guilty. This article will briefly review Michigan's 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.
In Michigan and most other states, the time limits depend on the offense level or the specific crime. For instance, a prosecutor might have 10 years to file most felony charges but only one year to file misdemeanor charges. 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. (More on "tolling" below.)
Lawmakers can change limitations periods. For example, they could change the statute of limitations for child sex crimes from 10 years to 25 years. But whether changes apply to past crimes depends on a couple of factors. Importantly, a new time limit created by the legislature doesn't apply if the prosecutor had already run out of time to file the charges.
The Michigan Legislature has amended (changed) its law on statutes of limitations several times. You might want to consult with an attorney if you have questions on a particular issue.
Like many states, Michigan's law sets time limits for a host of specific crimes. For crimes not specifically listed in the statute, the statute of limitations is 6 years for both felonies and misdemeanors.
Below are examples of time limits for specific crimes in Michigan. 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.
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.
DNA evidence. For instance, Michigan law allows criminal sexual conduct crimes to be prosecuted at any time if DNA evidence was collected in the investigation. Once the suspect is identified, the original time limit for the offense begins to run.
Identity unknown; reported to police. Michigan allows extra time for certain crimes to be prosecuted where the suspect's identity is unknown. If reported within one year to the police, the following crimes can be prosecuted within 10 years of identifying the suspect: kidnapping, extortion, assault with intent to commit murder, attempted murder, manslaughter, armed robbery, and first-degree home invasion.
Residing outside the state. If a person moves their residence outside the state, the law gives the prosecutor extra time to file charges. In Michigan, the statute of limitations doesn't run during anytime the defendant does not usually and publicly reside in the state.
Statutes of limitations are confusing, to say the least. The same conduct can be the basis for multiple criminal charges, meaning that more than one limitation period could apply. And because lawmakers can make changes to statutes of limitations, the time limit currently in law might not apply to a past crime. Consult a knowledgeable attorney in your area to understand how the statutes of limitations apply in a specific case.
(Mich. Comp. Laws § 767.24 (2022).)