In Arizona, the statute of limitations is 7 years for most felonies, 2 years for driving crimes causing serious injury or death, 1 year for misdemeanors, and 6 months for petty offenses. Some severe criminal offenses, such as homicide or violent sexual assault, have no statute of limitations.
|Offense category||Statute of Limitations|
|Severe criminal offenses||None|
|Moving violations causing severe injury or death||2 years|
|Petty offenses||6 months|
These time limitations apply to state crimes in Arizona. Federal charges may have a different statute of limitations.
There are also some exceptions that might extend these time frames.
What are criminal statutes of limitations?
A criminal statute of limitations is a law that puts a time limit on when prosecutors can file criminal charges. They give prosecutors a set amount of time to file charges against a suspect. Once the time period has expired, a prosecutor’s ability to charge a suspect is very limited.
If the prosecutor does not file a criminal charge until after the statute of limitations has expired, a criminal defense attorney can raise the statute of limitations as a defense. In Arizona, once this defense has been raised and supported with evidence, the prosecutor has the burden of proving that the charges are not time-barred.
If the defense does not raise the statute of limitations during the trial as an affirmative defense, it is waived and cannot be raised, later on.
The reasons for having these statutes include:
- encouraging prosecutors to bring charges quickly,
- ensuring that evidence is available and witnesses remember what happened, and
- letting the defendant relax in the certainty that they cannot be charged once the statute has expired.
What is the statute for felonies in Arizona?
Class 2 through Class 6 felonies in Arizona have a statute of limitations of 7 years.
This means that prosecutors have 7 years to charge defendants with any of the following violations of state law:
- armed robbery (a Class 2 felony),
- burglary (a Class 3 felony),
- theft of between $3,000 and $4,000 (a Class 4 felony),
- aggravated domestic violence (a Class 5 felony), and
- possession of drug paraphernalia (a Class 6 felony).
Class 6 felonies are “wobblers.” They are sometimes charged as a misdemeanor offense. Even if charged as a misdemeanor, the applicable limitations period is 7 years.
What about severe criminal cases?
Arizona law singles out certain crimes as “severe offenses” that do not have a statute of limitations. Prosecutors can pursue these charges at any time after they occur.
Examples of severe criminal cases that do not have a statute of limitations are:
- homicide (a Class 1 felony),
- conspiracy to commit homicide, if it leads to death,
- sexual crimes, like sexual assault or sexual exploitation of a child, that are Class 2 felonies,
- violent sexual assault,
- Class 2 felonies involving weapons or explosives, like the unlawful discharge of a firearm or misconduct involving weapons,
- participating or assisting in a criminal syndicate,
- misuse of public funds, and
- felony offenses involving the falsification of public records.
Criminal charges for an attempt to commit these offenses also have a 7-year time period.
What about criminal charges after a car crash?
The statute of limitations for certain criminal charges stemming from a car accident that either killed or seriously hurt someone is 2 years.
Those criminal charges can be for:
- running a red light,
- speeding in a work zone,
- violating right-of-way rules at an intersection, crosswalk, or school crossing,
- not stopping at a stop sign,
- overtaking a school bus, or
- illegal use of cell phones while driving.
How long do prosecutors have to charge someone for a misdemeanor?
Prosecutors in Arizona have 1 year to file criminal charges for a misdemeanor offense.
This includes Class 1 misdemeanors like:
- assault producing injury,
- shoplifting, and
- driving under the influence (DUI).
It includes Class 2 misdemeanors such as:
- leaving the scene of a car accident,
- criminal damage of less than $250, and
- reckless driving.
It also includes Class 3 misdemeanors, like:
- criminal speeding,
- third-degree criminal trespass, and
- criminal nuisance.
What about petty offenses?
Prosecutors only have 6 months to pursue charges for a petty offense.
These offenses are the least severe types of crimes that people in Arizona can face. They include:
- underage possession of tobacco,
- shoplifting by a minor, and
- certain traffic offenses.
When does the time period begin and end?
The applicable time period to bring a criminal charge for an Arizona crime begins when the crime happened, or when it should have been discovered.
In most cases, this means that the statute of limitations begins to run when the crime is reported. In some cases, it only begins to run when law enforcement should have found that a crime occurred with reasonable diligence. This means that attempts to conceal a crime from police can prevent the statute of limitations from beginning to run.
The time period ends when the prosecutor files any of the following:
- information, or
- criminal complaint.
If the prosecutor files one of these motions before the time limit has expired, but then the motion is dismissed, the prosecutor can re-file it within 6 months, even if the statute of limitations would expire in the meantime.
Are there any exceptions that would extend the time period?
There are 2 exceptions that can delay, or toll, the statute of limitations in Arizona.
The first exception is for absent defendants. When the criminal defendant is either not in the state of Arizona, or if he or she does not have a known residence in the state, the statute of limitations does not run.
The second exception is for unknown defendants of serious offenses. In these cases, the statute of limitations only begins to run when the identity of the person who committed the offense is known. This exception only applies to “serious offenses.” These include:
- first-degree murder,
- second-degree murder,
- aggravated assault causing a serious injury or the use of a deadly weapon,
- sexual assault,
- sexual conduct with a minor under 15,
- child sex trafficking,
- any dangerous crime against a child,
- arson of an occupied building,
- armed robbery,
- first-degree burglary, and
What about federal offenses?
Some criminal charges that are filed in Arizona are for federal crimes. When the charge is for a violation of federal criminal law, the applicable statute of limitations is federal, as well.
Examples of federal offenses that trigger a federal statute of limitations include:
- tax crimes,
- bank fraud,
- immigration law violations,
- securities fraud, and
- federal murder crimes.
 ARS 13-107.
 ARS 13-107(B)(1).
 ARS 13-107(F).
 ARS 13-107(A).
 ARS 28-672(H).
 ARS 13-107(B) and ARS 28-672(A).
 ARS 13-107(B)(2).
 ARS 13-107(C).
 ARS 13-107(G).
 ARS 13-107(D).
 ARS 13-107(E) and ARS 13-706(F)(1).