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 Oregon 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, Oregon 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:
(Or. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 131.125-.155 (2020).)
Below are examples of time limits for specific crimes in Oregon. 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.
And know that changes to limitations periods made by the legislature apply only to crimes not yet time-barred. In other words, if the prosecution already ran out of time to file charges under the old law, any new changes to the law extending time limits don't apply.
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.
For instance, Oregon allows extra time for prosecutors to file charges in felony rape, sexual abuse, sodomy, and unlawful sexual penetration cases where DNA evidence is collected and identifies the suspect.
If the original time limit has not expired, the prosecutor can bring charges at any time for first-degree cases. The prosecutor has 25 years from the date of the crime in second-degree cases.
If the original time limit expired before the DNA identification, the charges must be filed within two years of the DNA match.
Charges can be filed at any time in first-degree rape, unlawful sexual penetration, sodomy, and sexual abuse cases, where the prosecution obtains corroborating evidence of the crime. Corroborating evidence includes physical evidence (other than DNA), a confession, or the victim's oral or written statement given to another person close in time to the crime.
Oregon law also extends a prosecutor's window to charge crimes involving fraud, a breach of fiduciary duty, or invasion of personal privacy. The prosecutor has one year after discovery of the offense to bring charges, with a maximum extension of three years.
For offenses committed by a public official, officer, or employee, the prosecutor can bring the case any time the defendant remains in public office or employment or within two years after leaving the position. The maximum extension for filing charges is three years.
Also, if a person tries to "evade" (avoid) arrest for a crime, the law gives the prosecutor extra time to file charges. In Oregon, the statute of limitations doesn't run while the defendant conceals him or herself from the authorities or does not reside in the state, up to a maximum of three years.
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 limitations 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.