The California criminal statute of limitations is generally one year for misdemeanors and three years for felonies. But for more serious cases, prosecutors have additional time to press charges. And for the most serious crimes such as rape and murder, there is no statute of limitations at all.
|California criminal offense ||Criminal statute of limitations|
| ||1 year|
| ||2 years|
| ||3 years|
| ||4 years|
| ||5 years|
| ||6 years|
| ||10 years|
| ||Until the victim’s 40th birthday|
| ||No time limit|
In this article, our California criminal defense attorneys discuss:
- 1. What is a statute of limitations in criminal cases?
- 2. What is the statute of limitations for misdemeanors in California?
- 3. What is the statute of limitations for felonies in California?
- 4. What California crimes have no statute of limitations?
- 5. What is the statute of limitations for wobblers?
- 6. What is the discovery rule?
- 7. When does the statute of limitations pause?
- 8. What if I get charged after the statute of limitations has passed?
- 9. What about in civil cases?
1. What is a statute of limitations in criminal cases?
A statute of limitations is the period of time in which the district attorney (D.A.) can file criminal charges against a suspect. Once this deadline passes, then the D.A. may no longer prosecute the suspect.
Prosecution is when the D.A. either:
- files an information or indictment;
- files a complaint charging a misdemeanor;
- the suspect is arraigned on a felony complaint; or
- the judge issues an arrest warrant or bench warrant for the suspect
The purpose of statutes of limitations is to motivate prosecutors to investigate matters quickly before memories fade and potential trial exhibits disappear.
Waiting a long time to bring criminal charges also unfairly prejudices the suspect, who may no longer have access to exonerating evidence.1
2. What is the statute of limitations for misdemeanors in California?
California law generally imposes a one-year statute of limitations on misdemeanors, which are crimes not punishable by state prison. (Incarceration for misdemeanors is served in county jail instead of California state prison.)
Common examples of California misdemeanor crimes with a one-year statute of limitation include:
- DUI (23152(a) VC and 23152(b) VC)
- Hit and run (20002 VC)
- Trespass (602 PC)
- Petty theft (484 PC)
- Prostitution (647(b) PC)
- Disturbing the Peace (415 PC)
- Drug possession (11350 HS)
This one-year clock starts running once the alleged offense occurs. So if someone shoplifted a candy bar from a bodega on January 1, 2022, then prosecutors would have until January 1, 2023 to prosecute the alleged thief.
California’s statute of limitations to prosecute misdemeanor charges of annoying children or child molestation (647.6 PC) is three years.
California’s statute of limitations to prosecute sexual exploitation by a therapist or physician under 729 PC is two years.
And certain Business and Professions Code crimes have statutes of limitations ranging from one to four years, depending on the offense.2
See our related article, What is the Statute of Limitations to File a Misdemeanor in California?
3. What is the statute of limitations for felonies in California?
California law generally imposes a three-year statute of limitations on felonies, which are crimes punishable by state prison (as opposed to county jail). But if the felony crime potentially carries at least eight years in prison, then the statute of limitations is six years.
Common examples of California felonies with a three-year statute of limitation include:
- Burglary (459 PC)
- Assault with a deadly weapon (245(a)(1) PC)
- Drug selling (11352 HS)
- Grand theft (487 PC)
Examples of California felonies with a six-year statute of limitation include:
- Arson of an inhabited structure (451 PC)
- First-degree robbery (211 PC)
- Gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated (191.5(a)PC)
This three-year or six-year clock starts running once the alleged offense occurs. So if someone stole a Chanel purse by committing first-degree robbery on January 1, 2022, then prosecutors would have until January 1, 2025 to bring the grand theft charge, and until January 1, 2028 to bring the robbery charge.3
There is a four-year statute of limitations for these California crimes:
- Misconduct by a public official or employee
- Fraud, theft, breach of trust, or embezzlement against elderly or dependent adults
Note that this four-year clock begins running after the crime was completed or discovered (whichever occurs later). This is because fraud often remains undetected for a while.4
There is a five-year statute of limitations for these California crimes:
- Corporal injury on spouse or cohabitant (273.5 PC)
- Mandated reporter failing to report sexual assault
- Crimes against elderly or dependent adults (not including theft or embezzlement)5
There is a ten-year statute of limitations for these California crimes:
- Most felony sex crimes requiring sex offender registration
- Use of a minor in producing child pornography (311.4(b) PC)
- Failing to register as a sex offender (290 PC)6
And the deadline to prosecute for certain child sex offenses is the victim’s 40th birthday.7
Note that in certain sex offense cases where the statute of limitations has already run, prosecutors are given one year to bring charges if:
- DNA evidence of the suspect emerges, or
- The victim – who was under 18 at the time of the crime – reports the offense.8
(The few felony crimes that have no statute of limitations are listed in the next section.)
4. What California crimes have no statute of limitations?
The most serious California crimes have no statute of limitations, which means prosecutors can bring criminal charges no matter how much time has gone by. These crimes include (with some exceptions):
- Crimes that carry the death penalty or life in prison (with or without parole), such as murder (197 PC), aggravated kidnapping (209 PC), or treason (37 PC).
- Embezzlement of public money
- Rape (261 PC) offenses
- Aiding or abetting rape (264.1 PC)
- Sodomy (286 PC)
- Oral copulation (287 PC)
- Lewd or lascivious acts involving children (288 PC)
- Continuous sexual abuse of a child (288.5 PC)
- Penetration by foreign object (289 PC)9
See our related articles, What crimes in California have no statute of limitations? and Statute of Limitations on Murders – Is There One?
5. What is the statute of limitations for wobblers?
When a California crime can be prosecuted as either a felony or a misdemeanor (called a “wobbler“), the felony statute of limitation applies.
So if someone is suspected of the wobbler stalking (646.9 PC), California prosecutors would have three years to file charges.10
6. What is the discovery rule?
Under California’s discovery rule, criminal statutes of limitations do not begin running until after the crime was discovered (or reasonably should have been discovered). This can be weeks, months, or longer after the crime actually allegedly occurred.
The discovery rule typically applies to theft and fraud cases since there is usually a lag time between when the crime occurs and when the authorities learn of it.11
7. When does the statute of limitations pause?
When a suspect in a California criminal case is out of state, the statute of limitations can pause (“toll”) for up to three years.12
8. What if I get charged after the statute of limitations has passed?
If the applicable statutory period has passed when you are charged with a California crime, your criminal defense lawyer would file a motion to dismiss in court. This typically takes the form of a demurrer motion during your arraignment.
See our related article, Can I be arrested for a crime in California after the statute of limitations expires?
9. What about in civil cases?
The statute of limitations to file a civil lawsuit ranges from one to ten years depending on the specific cause of action. The deadlines can be found in the California Code of Civil Procedure, Title 2.
Arrested by law enforcement? For legal advice, contact our criminal law firm. We defend against every type of crime. And we have offices in Los Angeles and throughout California.
- What is the statute of limitations for “theft” in California?
- What is the statute of limitations for “assault” in California?
- What is the statute of limitations on child molestation in California?
- What is The “statute of limitations” for statutory rape in California?
- What is the statute of limitations for hit & run in California?
- How long after a hit and run accident can you be charged?
- Is there a statute of limitations for a probation violation in California?
- What Is the statute of limitations to file a DUI Charge?
- Penal Code 804 PC – Commencement of prosecution.
- 802 PC – Time period for commencement of prosecution.
- California Penal Code 801 PC – Offense punishable by imprisonment in state prison; 800 PC – Offenses punishable by imprisonment for eight years or more.
- 801.5 PC – False or fraudulent insurance claims.
- 801.6 PC – Limitations period governing prosecution for elder abuse or neglect that does not involve theft or embezzlement, or for failure of mandated reporter to report sexual assault; 803.7 PC – Time limitation for prosecution for offense described in Penal Code Section 273.5.
- 801.2 PC – Time limitation for prosecution of use of minor in production of pornography.
- 801.1 PC – Ten-year limitation for specified sex offenses; Exception for minor victims.
- 803 PC – Tolling or extension of time period generally; Tolling until discovery of certain offenses; Tolling where defendant is out of state; Time limits for certain crimes against children and certain other crimes. See also: People v. Brown (Cal. App. 1st Dist., 2018), 233 Cal. Rptr. 3d 256; People v. Lewis (Cal. App. 1st Dist., 2015), 234 Cal. App. 4th 203.
- 799 PC – Offenses punishable by death or life imprisonment without parole; Embezzlement of public money; Certain felonies.
- 803.6 PC – What time period controls where more than one period applies; Applicability of change in time period; 805 PC – Determination of applicable limitation period.
- See note 8. 803.5 PC – Commencement of time period for persons filing forged instruments and for unauthorized use of personal identifying information.
- See note 8.