California Penal Code 801 PC imposes a three-year statute of limitations on D.A.s to prosecute most felony crimes. If three years pass with no prosecution, then the D.A. is barred from pressing charges.
The full text of the statute reads as follows:
PC 801 Except as provided in Sections 799 and 800, prosecution for an offense punishable by imprisonment in the state prison or pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 shall be commenced within three years after commission of the offense.
Under California Penal Code 801 PC, most felony crimes have a three-year statute of limitation. This means that prosecutors are required to press criminal charges within three years of the crime occurring. Otherwise, the suspect cannot be charged – even if there is sufficient evidence to convict.1
There are some exceptions to PC 801. Felonies that carry eight years or more in prison have a longer statute of limitations: Six years after the crime allegedly occurs.2 And the most serious crimes such as murder and rape have no statute of limitations at all: Prosecutors can press charges no matter how much time has gone by.3
In practice, it is more difficult for prosecutors to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt the more time goes by after an alleged crime. Evidence is harder to obtain, and witnesses’ memories fade. That is why prosecutors try to press charges earlier rather than later.
- California Penal Code 801 PC – Offense punishable by imprisonment in state prison. See also: Heidary v. Superior Court (Cal. App. 4th Dist., 2018), 236 Cal. Rptr. 3d 718, 26 Cal. App. 5th 110; People v. Sedillo (Cal. App. 2d Dist., 2015), 235 Cal. App. 4th 1037, 185 Cal. Rptr. 3d 907
- PC 800.
- PC 799.