Like most states, Nevada 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 Nevada's statutes of limitations work and what those time limits 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 Nevada 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 to 25 years, giving prosecutors more time to file charges in a case. But whether such 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 Nevada Legislature has amended (changed) the laws 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, Nevada's 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.
The general time limits for other crimes are:
Below are examples of time limits for specific crimes in Nevada. 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, Nevada law allows sexual assault crimes to be prosecuted at any time if DNA evidence establishes the accused's identity.
Report to police. The law also removes any time limits for prosecuting sexual assault and sex trafficking cases when a victim reports the crime to police during the original limitations period. And the time limits for bringing kidnapping and attempted murder charges are extended by five years if reported to police within the original three-year limitations period.
Victim under disability. The limitations period for prosecuting sexual assault or sex trafficking cases excludes any amount of time the victim remains under a disability. The definition of disability includes a victim who is intellectually disabled, mentally incompetent, or in a comatose state.
Crimes committed in secret. Nevada allows extra time for the prosecutor to file charges when crimes are committed "in a secret manner." In these cases, the time limit does not start until the offense is discovered.
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.
(Nev. Rev. Stat. §§ 171.080 to .100 (2022).)