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