Like most states, Oklahoma 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 Oklahoma's statutes of limitations and how they work.
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 Oklahoma and most other states, the time limits depend on the offense level or the specific crime. For instance, a prosecutor might have 10 years to file serious felony charges but only 3 years to file misdemeanor charges. Violent crimes generally have longer statutes of limitations, and some crimes (like murder or manslaughter) 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 sex crimes from 7 to 10 years. But extending this time period has its limits. Importantly, a new time limit created by the legislature applies only to crimes committed after the law changed and to crimes committed before then but only if the old time limit hadn't yet expired. (Basically, the change can't revive a dead case.)
The Oklahoma 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, Oklahoma sets time limits for a host of specific crimes. For crimes not specifically listed in the statute, the statute of limitations is three years for both felonies and misdemeanors.
Below are examples of time limits for specific crimes in Oklahoma. 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.
Also, most statutes of limitations begin to run when the crime occurs. But in circumstances where it's difficult to discover the crime—such as in cases of fraud or misuse of funds—Oklahoma doesn't start the clock until the crime is discovered.
In certain instances, the law delays (or tolls) the starting of the time clock and allows the government more time to bring charges in a case. This delay might happen in cases where victims are particularly afraid to report a crime or when the suspect actively conceals a crime.
DNA evidence. For instance, Oklahoma's law allows prosecutors to file charges in sexual offense cases at any time when DNA evidence is collected and preserved. Once a suspect's identity is established through a DNA match, the prosecution has three years to file the charges.
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 Oklahoma, the statute of limitations doesn't run while the defendant is not an inhabitant or 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.
(Okla. Stat. tit. 22, §§ 151, 152, 153 (2022).)