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 Texas and most other states, 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 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, 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:
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, 12.02, 12.05 (2019).)
For felony sexual assault cases where DNA evidence is collected, no time limitations apply if:
DNA has not been tested, or
DNA has been tested but does not match victim or any other identifiable person.
(Tex. Crim. Proc. Code § 12.01 (1) (2019)).
Tolling: Starting and Stopping the Clock
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.
For instance, Texas law doesn't start the clock for certain crimes committed against a child until the victim reaches adulthood, including:
aggravated kidnapping with intent to sexually assault: time limit is 20 years from victim's 18th birthday
trafficking for forced labor or services: time limit is 10 years from victim's 18th birthday, and
injury to a child: time limit is 10 years from victim's 18th birthday.
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 (2019).)
Time to Talk to a Lawyer
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 limitations period could apply. Consult a knowledgeable attorney in your area to understand how the statutes of limitations apply in a specific case.
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