Washington Criminal Statute of Limitations

Statutes of limitations set time limits for criminal charges to be brought in a case. Learn more about time limits for filing criminal charges in Washington.

By , Attorney

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 Washington and most other states, violent crimes generally have longer statutes of limitations, and some crimes (like murder or rape 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, Gross Misdemeanors, and Misdemeanors

Like many states, Washington'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:

Statute of Limitations: Specific Crimes

Below are examples of time limits for specific crimes in Washington. 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. (Changes to limitation periods made by the legislature apply only to crimes not yet time-barred, and cannot revive cases where the statute of limitations has already expired.)

(Wash. Rev. Code § 9A.04.080 (2019).)

Murder and Homicide

Rape and Sex Crimes

  • Rape of a child, first- and second-degree rape if victim is younger than 16, child molestation: no time limit
  • First- and second-degree rape if victim is 16 or older, indecent liberties: 20 years after the crime
  • Third-degree rape, human trafficking, sex trafficking: 10 years after the crime

Theft Crimes

  • Leading organized crime or criminal profiteering, felony money laundering, felony identity theft, first- and second-degree theft from a vulnerable adult: 6 years after the crime or its discovery
  • Certain class C public welfare and fuel tax felonies: 5 years after the crime

Time Clock: Starting and Stopping

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, Washington law extends the statute of limitations in sex offense cases. The limitations periods runs from the later of: (1) the date the crime was committed or (2) two years from the date the suspect's identity is conclusively established by DNA testing or photographic identification.

Also, if a person tries to "evade" (avoid) arrest for a crime, the law generally gives the prosecutor extra time to file charges. In Washington, the statute of limitations doesn't run during any time the defendant is not usually and publicly resident within the state.

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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