Every crime in California is defined by a specific code section. Our attorneys explain the law, penalties and best defense strategies for every major crime in California.
Theft » What is the statute of limitations for theft in California?
Under California criminal law, the SOL refers to the maximum time period in which a prosecutor can file criminal charges.
Most California misdemeanors have a statute of limitations of one year. But under California Penal Code 801 PC felonies have an SOL of three years.
Some examples of common California theft crimes are:
One of the main reasons the law puts limits on when a criminal case gets filed is to preserve a sense of fairness for the defendant.
There are several different theft crimes in California. If a defendant is charged with a theft offense, and it is going to be charged as a misdemeanor, then the SOL is typically one year. This means a prosecutor must file charges of the crime within one year of the offense. If no charges are brought during this one-year time period, a prosecutor loses the right to file them in the future.
Some examples of California theft offenses that are often charged as a misdemeanor are:
If an accused is charged with a theft crime that is a felony, then PC 801 says that the SOL to bring the charge is three years. This means a prosecutor must file charges of the crime within three years of the offense. If no charges are brought during this three-year time period, a prosecutor loses the right to file them in the future.
Some examples of California theft offenses that are often charged as a felony are:
There are several theft crimes that are California wobblers. A wobbler is an offense that can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. A prosecutor will determine which type of charge to pursue based upon:
If the prosecutor decides that a crime will be charged as a misdemeanor, then he/she has one year to bring charges of that crime.
If, however, a prosecutor decides that an offense will be charged as a felony, then he/she has three years to bring charges of that offense.
Statute of limitations exist to help ensure fairness for defendants. Evidence often gets lost or destroyed with the passage of time. Witnesses to crimes may also move after several years, or, they may no longer recall certain facts that took place. The result is that it would be unfair to pursue criminal charges against a person after a certain period of time has passed.
The Discovery Rule is used to determine when the statutory period for bringing criminal charges begins. The rule says that the SOL clock begins to run when an offense is discovered. So, for example, a person may commit a misdemeanor on January 1, 2019. If authorities do not learn of the crime until January 1, 2020, then they have until January 1, 2021 to bring misdemeanor charges.
Not all crimes have a statute of limitations. Under California Penal Code 799 PC, charges of the following crimes can be brought against a person at any time:
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, Court TV, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.
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