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 many states, 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.
For most crimes committed in New Hampshire, the time limit to charge the offense is based on the sentencing level of the crime: felony, misdemeanor, or violation. There are a few crimes where a specific time limit is provided in statute.
In addition to these general and specific time limits, New Hampshire law provides extensions to time limits. These extensions are noted in the "Tolling the Statute of Limitations" section below.
The general time limits for charging crimes (where no specific time limit is noted) are:
(N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 625:8 (2020).)
Below are examples of time limits for specific crimes in New Hampshire. Keep in mind this 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.
New Hampshire law contains several tolling provisions that apply even if the general or specific time limits above have expired. Below are some examples.
For crimes involving misconduct in public office, the law allows prosecutors extra time to file a case. If the time limit has already expired, the prosecution can still file charges during any time the person is in office or within two years of leaving office.
For a violation-level offense involving a motor vehicle accident that results in death or serious bodily injury, the prosecutor has six months after the accident to file charges (compared to three months under the general law).
The law also provides extra time to file charges in cases involving fraud or breach of a fiduciary duty. Charges must be filed within one year of the crime's discovery.
If a person destroys or falsifies evidence, tampers with a witness, or engages in any other unlawful conduct that delays discovery of the offense, the prosecution has a year after the discovery of such conduct to file charges.
If a person tries to "evade" (avoid) arrest for a crime, the law gives the prosecutor extra time to file charges. In New Hampshire, the statute of limitations doesn't run while the defendant is continuously absent from the state or has no reasonably ascertainable place of residence or employment.
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.