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 Missouri and most other states, violent crimes generally have longer statutes of limitations, and some crimes (like murder and forcible 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.
Like many states, Missouri 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.
Class A felonies have no time limits and can be prosecuted at any time. Examples of Class A felonies include first-degree assault or domestic assault resulting in serious physical injury, child kidnapping, first-degree robbery, and treason.
The general time limits for other crimes are:
(Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 556.036 - .037 (2020).)
Below are examples of time limits for specific crimes in Missouri. 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 changes to limitations periods made by the legislature apply only to crimes not yet time-barred. This means that, if the prosecution already ran out of time to file charges under the old law, any new changes to the law extending time limits don't apply.
Generally, the statute of limitations starts when the crime occurs. Missouri law specifically states that time starts to run the day after the offense is committed. Also, 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, Missouri law stops the clock at the point a DNA profile is developed and filed in a case based on evidence from the crime. The clock starts again once the accused is identified based on a DNA match.
Misconduct in public office. For crimes involving misconduct in public office or employment, the law allows prosecutors extra time to file a case. If the time limit has already expired, the prosecution can still file a claim during any time the person remains in office or within two years of leaving office, with a maximum extension of three years.
Breach of fiduciary duty. Missouri law also extends a prosecutor's window to charge crimes involving fraud or breach of a fiduciary duty. The prosecutor has one year after discovery of the offense to bring charges, with a maximum extension of three years.
Evading prosecution. If a person tries to "evade" (avoid) arrest for a crime, the law gives the prosecutor extra time to file charges. In Missouri, the statute of limitations doesn't run while the defendant conceals him or herself or is absent from the state. For an absent defendant, the extension is limited to three years.
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 limitations 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.