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 Ohio and most other 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.
Like many states, Ohio’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 are:
(Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 2901.13 (2019).)
Below are examples of time limits for specific crimes in Ohio. Keep in mind that the following is a partial list that broadly summarizes the law. You should look at the actual law for nuances, exceptions, and legislative changes—and know that court rulings can affect the interpretation of the law. (Changes to limitations periods made by the legislature apply only to crimes not yet time-barred, and cannot revive cases where the statute of limitations has already expired.)
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.
In rape and sexual battery cases where DNA evidence matches an identifiable person, Ohio law allows the case to be prosecuted within 25 years of the crime or five years after the DNA determination is made, whichever is later.
Ohio delays the starting of the time clock in cases involving physical or mental abuse or neglect of a child younger than 18 or a child younger than 21 with a developmental disability or physical impairment. The clock doesn’t begin to run until:
If a suspect tries to “evade” (avoid) prosecution by fleeing the state or concealing his or her identity or whereabouts, the law gives the prosecutor extra time to file charges. In Ohio, the statute of limitations doesn’t run any time while a suspect is evading prosecution.
Statutes of limitations are confusing to say the least. Plus, the same conduct can be the basis for multiple criminal charges, meaning that more than one limitations period could apply. Consult a knowledgeable attorney in your area to understand how the statutes of limitations apply in a specific case.