Tennessee Criminal Statute of Limitations

Statutes of limitations set time limits for prosecutors to file charges in criminal cases. If the prosecutor doesn't file in time, a defendant can seek dismissal of the charges.

In Tennessee 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.

Statute of Limitations: Felonies and Misdemeanors

Like many states, Tennessee 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.

Felonies punishable by death or life imprisonment can be prosecuted at any time.

The general time limits for other crimes are:

  • 15 years for Class A felonies
  • eight years for Class B felonies
  • four years for Class C and D felonies
  • two years for Class E felonies, and
  • one year for misdemeanors.

(Tenn. Code §§ 40-2-101 to -106 (2020).)

Statute of Limitations: Specific Crimes

Below are examples of time limits for specific crimes in Tennessee. 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. This means that, 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. The Tennessee General Assembly has changed the time limits repeatedly over the years. Consult the statute for the time limits that apply based on when the crime was committed.

Murder and Manslaughter

  • First-degree murder: no time limit
  • Second-degree murder: no time limit for crimes committed after July 1, 2019; otherwise 15 years after the crime
  • Voluntary manslaughter: 4 years after the crime
  • Vehicular manslaughter (due to intoxication): 4 years after the crime

Rape, Sexual Offenses, and Trafficking

  • Sexual offenses against a minor committed on or after July 1, 2019 (see § 40-2-101 (q) for list of offenses)
    • Victim under 13: no time limit
    • Victim age 13 to 17 and reported the offense to another person before turning 23: no time limit
    • Victim age 13 to 17 and not reported by age 23: varies but generally 10 to 25 years after the victim turns 18 (sometimes shorter)
  • Aggravated rape or rape of a child (committed on or after June 30, 2006 and not reported): 25 years after the child turns 18
  • Aggravated rape or rape of adult
    • Committed on or after July 1, 2014 and victim notified law enforcement within 3 years of offense: no time limit
    • Committed on or after July 1, 2014 and victim did not report within 3 years of offense: 15 years after the crime (aggravated rape); 8 years after the crime (rape)

Tax Crimes and Other Revenue Crimes Against the State

  • Crimes of defrauding the state, evading taxes, or filing fraudulent tax returns: 6 years after the crime
  • Other revenue crimes against the state: 3 years after the crime

Theft and Fraud-Related Crimes

  • Felony theft (more than $1,000): 2 to 15 years after the crime
  • Misdemeanor theft ($1,000 or less): 1 year after the crime
  • Criminal impersonation using a fraudulent driver license: 3 years after non-expired license last used or 1 year after the license expires

Tolling the Statute of Limitations

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. Tennessee law allows a prosecutor to file charges or issue a warrant based on an offender’s DNA profile. These actions stop the “limitations clock” even without knowing the identity of the suspect.

Corroborating evidence. In cases involving a sex offense against a minor age 13 to 17, the law allows the case to be prosecuted at any time if the prosecution has admissible and credible evidence corroborating the victim’s allegations.

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 Tennessee, the statute of limitations doesn’t run while the defendant conceals the crime or is not a resident of the state.

Time to Talk to a Lawyer

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. The Tennessee General Assembly has changed the statute of limitations many times, and a careful reading is required to determine the applicable time limit. Consult a knowledgeable attorney in your area to understand how the statutes of limitations apply in a specific case.

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