Like most states, Ohio 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 a case even if a defendant is guilty. This article will briefly review how Ohio'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 Ohio and most other states, the time limits depend on the offense level or the specific crime. For instance, a prosecutor might have six years to file most felony charges but only two years 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.
Yes, 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 has already run out of time to file the charges.
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 § 2901.13 (2024).)
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.
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 5 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.