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 Virginia, felony crimes have no statutes of limitations—meaning a felony criminal case can be filed at any time. Most misdemeanors must be charged by the prosecutor within one year of the crime unless the law provides an exception, of which there are several (see below). In a few instances, statutes of limitations are “tolled” (suspended), allowing the government more time to bring a case.
(Va. Code Ann. § 19.2-8 (2020).)
Below are examples of Virginia misdemeanors that fall outside the general one-year charging time limit. 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.
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.
Sex crimes against a child. For instance, Virginia law delays starting the limitiations' clock for the following misdemeanor crimes committed against a minor: sexual battery, attempt to commit sexual battery, infected sexual battery (STD or STI), and sexual abuse of child. The clock begins to run once the victim reaches the age of majority. Once the clock begins to run, the one-year time limit applies—except in cases where the offender was an adult and more than three years older than the victim. In these cases, the law gives the prosecution five years to file charges.
Evading prosecution. 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 doesn’t run while the defendant is fleeing from justice or conceals him or herself to avoid arrest.
Statutes of limitations can be confusing, especially when exceptions or tolling provisions apply. If you have questions about the statute of limitations in a particular case, consult a knowledgeable attorney in your area.