Like most states, New Mexico 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 how New Mexico's statutes of limitations work and what they are for several 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 charged can have the case dismissed.
In New Mexico and most other states, the time limits depend on the offense level or the specific crime. For instance, a prosecutor might have five 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 New Mexico 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, New Mexico 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.
Capital felonies, first-degree violent felonies, and second-degree murder have no time limits and can be prosecuted at any time. Capital felonies include premeditated murder, felony murder (murder committed during the commission or attempted commission of a felony), and depraved mind murder. Examples of first-degree violent felonies include aggravated criminal sexual penetration, kidnapping, and abuse of a child resulting in great bodily harm.
Other felonies and misdemeanors. The general time limits for other crimes are:
No time limit provided. For any crimes not listed in the state's criminal code or where no time limit is provided, the time limit defaults to 3 years.
(N.M. Stat. §§ 30-1-8 to –9.2 (2022).)
Below are examples of time limits for specific crimes in New Mexico. 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.
Crimes against a child. For instance, New Mexico law doesn't start the clock for the following crimes until the victim turns 18 or the violation is reported to the police: abandonment or abuse of a child, criminal sexual penetration of a minor, and criminal sexual contact of a minor.
DNA evidence. The law also stops the clock in criminal sexual penetration cases where the suspect is unknown and DNA evidence is collected. The clock starts once a DNA profile matches a suspect.
Evading prosecution. Also, if a person tries to evade (avoid) arrest for a crime, the law gives the prosecutor extra time to file charges. In New Mexico, the statute of limitations doesn't run while the defendant conceals him or herself, is absent from the state, or is not a resident of 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.