In most circumstances, prosecutors have a limited amount of time to charge someone with a crime. Failing to file charges within the time limits—called "statutes of limitations"—can result in the case being dismissed. Read on to learn about Texas's statutes of limitations for several types of 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 can usually have the case dismissed.
In Texas and most other states, the time limits depend on the offense level or the specific crime. Violent crimes generally have longer statutes of limitations, and some crimes (like murder and sexual assault of a child) have no statute of limitations—meaning a criminal case can be filed at any time. In some situations, statutes of limitations are "tolled" (suspended), allowing the government more time to bring a case.
Lawmakers can and do change limitations periods. For example, in 2007, the Texas legislature changed the time limit for charging sexual assault on a child from a set number of years to no time limit at all.
Whether changes apply to past crimes depends on a couple of factors and can be complicated. Importantly, a new time limit doesn't apply if the prosecutor had already run out of time to file the charges before the change.
You might want to consult with an attorney if you have questions about a specific statute of limitations.
Like many states, Texas 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:
(Tex. Crim. Proc. Code §§ 12.01, 12.02 (2022).)
Below are examples of time limits for specific felony crimes in Texas. 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.
(Tex. Crim. Proc. Code § 12.01 (2022).)
Generally, the statute of limitations starts when the crime occurs. But in circumstances where it's difficult to discover the crime or a particular kind of victim might be scared to report it, the law might delay the starting of the time clock.
For instance, Texas law doesn't start the clock for certain crimes committed against a child until the victim reaches adulthood. Some examples include charges for:
Also, if a person tries to "evade" (avoid) arrest for a crime, the law gives the prosecutor extra time to file charges. In Texas, the statute of limitations is tolled while the defendant is absent from the state.
(Tex. Crim. Proc. Code § 12.05 (2022).)
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 limitation period could apply. Consult a knowledgeable attorney in your area to understand how the statutes of limitations apply in a specific case.