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 Utah and most other states, violent crimes generally have longer statutes of limitations, and some crimes (like murder and rape) 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, Utah's 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:
Below are examples of time limits for specific crimes in Utah. 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. (Utah Code §§ 76-1-301 to -305 (2019).)
Murder and manslaughter: no time limit
Child abuse homicide: no time limit
Misdemeanor negligent homicide: 4 years after the crime
Rape: no time limit
Sexual abuse of a child: no time limit
Forcible sexual abuse and incest: 8 years after the crime, if reported to law enforcement within 4 years of the crime
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, Utah's law allows charges for violent felonies to be brought at any time where DNA evidence was collected that could identify the suspect at a later date. A prosecutor must bring charges within four years of confirming the suspect's identity, if the time limit would have run without the DNA exception.
If a crime involves fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, or misconduct in public office, the limitations period can be extended up to three years under certain circumstances.
Also, if a person tries to “evade” (avoid) arrest for a crime, the law gives the prosecutor extra time to file charges. The statute of limitations is tolled during any period the defendant is out of the state.
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.