Washington Criminal Statute of Limitations

Statutes of limitations set time limits for criminal charges to be brought in a case.

By , Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated January 24, 2024

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.

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:

(Wash. Rev. Code § 9A.04.080 (2024).)

Statutes of Limitations for Specific Crimes in Washington

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.

But whether changes apply to past crimes depends on a couple of factors. Importantly, a new time limit created by the legislature doesn't apply if the government has already run out of time to file the charges.

Murder and Homicide

  • Murder: no time limit
  • Homicide by abuse: no time limit
  • Vehicular homicide: no time limit
  • Hit-and-run if death results: no time limit
  • Attempted murder: 10 years after the crime

Rape and Sex Crimes

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

Theft Crimes

  • Leading organized crime or criminal profiteering: 6 years after the crime or its discovery
  • Felony money laundering: 6 years after the crime or its discovery
  • Felony identity theft: 6 years after the crime or its discovery
  • 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
  • Felony theft: 3 years after the crime

(Wash. Rev. Code § 9A.04.080 (2024).)

When Does the Statute of Limitations Start to Run in Washington?

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 period runs from the later of: (1) the date the crime was committed or (2) four 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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