CRS 16-5-401 is the Colorado law that lists the statute of limitations for each crime. A statute of limitations is the time window the district attorney has to bring charges against a suspect. Generally speaking, the more serious the Colorado criminal case, the longer prosecutors have to file charges. And the most serious cases have no time limit at all.
Criminal statutes of limitations
|Petty offenses (not involving theft) and civil infractions||6 months after the offense occurs|
|Petty offenses involving theft||6 months after the offense is discovered|
|Most misdemeanors||18 months after the offense occurred|
|Misdemeanors involving theft||18 months after the theft is discovered|
|Traffic misdemeanors (including DUI)||1 year after the offense occurs|
|Misdemeanor unlawful sexual contact when the victim is 15 or older||5 years after the alleged offense|
|Misdemeanor unlawful sexual contact when the victim is under 15||8.5 years after the alleged offense|
|Most felonies, including manslaughter||3 years after the alleged offense|
|Theft felonies, insurance fraud, and certain other felonies||3 years after the offense is discovered|
|Vehicular homicide (fatal DUI or fatal reckless driving) with no hit and run||5 years after the incident|
|Certain felonies, such as bribery||6 years after the alleged offense is discovered|
|Vehicular homicide (fatal DUI or fatal reckless driving) with hit and run||10 years after the incident|
|Felony-level unlawful sexual contact when the victim is 15 or older||10 years after the incident or 10 years after the victim reaches age 18|
|Sexual assault when the victim is 15 or older||20 years after the incident or 20 years after the victim reaches age 18|
|Forgery (felonies)||No limit|
|Sex assault if the crime was reported within 20 years and there is DNA evidence||No limit|
|Sex crimes against a child||No limit|
Note that statutes of limitations have not been extended for “tolled” during the COVID-19 / coronavirus pandemic.
In this article, our Denver Colorado criminal defense attorneys discuss:
- 1. How long does the DA have to file charges in Colorado?
- 2. When does the statute of limitations start running?
- 3. When does the statute of limitations toll?
- 4. What Colorado crimes have no statute of limitations?
- 5. What is the statute of limitations for Colorado felonies?
- 6. What is the statute of limitations for Colorado misdemeanors?
- 7. What is the statute of limitations for Colorado petty offenses?
- 8. What is the statute of limitations in civil cases?
The length of time that prosecutors have to file criminal charges – called a statute of limitations (SOL) – depends on the particular crime. In general, the D.A. has three years to bring felony charges, 18 months to bring misdemeanor charges, 1 year to bring traffic misdemeanor charges, and 6 months to bring petty offense charges. But certain serious crimes have longer statutes of limitations or none at all.
This time limit is an incentive for the police and D.A. to investigate criminal cases as quickly as possible. Otherwise, eyewitness memories may fade and physical evidence – such as fingerprints or DNA – may disappear. Plus, defendants have a constitutional right to a speedy trial.1
In most cases in the state of Colorado, the time limit to prosecute begins running when the alleged crime gets committed. But in some cases – especially those involving theft or fraud – the time limit only begins running when the crime is discovered.2
Example: Becca forges her car insurance application on January 1, 2020. The insurance company does not discover the fraud until June 1, 2020, and it reports it to the police right away. Most felonies including insurance fraud have a three-year time limit to prosecute. Becca’s criminal lawyer explains to her that since this case involves fraud, the SOL begins running on June 1, 2020 – the day it was discovered. Not on January 1, 2020, the day the fraud allegedly occurred. Therefore, the D.A. has until June 1, 2023 to prosecute.
Colorado’s criminal statute of limitations (SOL) automatically pauses (“tolls”) in three situations.
- While the criminal suspect is not in Colorado (“has fled the state”), but the tolling occurs for no more than 5 years.
- In cases involving rape of victims aged 15, 16, or 17, the 20-year SOL tolls until the victim turns 18.
- In cases involving unlawful sexual contact of victims aged 15, 16, or 17, the 10-year SOL tolls until the victim turns 18.
Prosecutors may bring felony charges for the following Colorado offenses at any time:
- Murder – first-degree (CRS 18-3-102) and second-degree (CRS 18-3-103)
- Kidnapping (CRS 18-3-301 & CRS 18-3-302)
- Treason (CRS 18-11-101)
- Any felony forgery (18-5-102) offense, regardless of the penalty
- Sexual assault (CRS 18-3-402) – when there is DNA evidence of the suspect, and the sex offense was reported to law enforcement within 20 years of the alleged rape
- Any sexual offense against a child, which includes:
- Enticement of a child (CRS 18-3-305)
- Sexual assault (CRS 18-3-402) – when victim is under 15
- Unlawful sexual contact (CRS 18-3-404) – sexual abuse when victim is under 15
- Sexual assault on a child (CRS 18-3-405)
- Sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust (CRS 18-3-405.3)
- Aggravated incest (CRS 18-6-302)
- Human sex trafficking (CRS 18-3-504) – of minors for sexual servitude
- Sexual exploitation of children (CRS 18-6-403)
- Procurement of a child for sexual exploitation (CRS 18-6-404)
- Indecent exposure (CRS 18-7-302)
- Soliciting for child prostitution (CRS 18-7-402)
- Pandering of a child (CRS 18-7-403)
- Procurement of a child (CRS 18-7-403.5)
- Keeping a place of child prostitution (CRS 18-7-404)
- Pimping of a child (CRS 18-7-405)
- Inducement of child prostitution (CRS 18-7-405.5)
- Patronizing a prostituted child (CRS 18-7-406)
- Internet luring of a child (CRS 18-3-306 (3)) – class 4 felony
- Internet sexual exploitation of a child (CRS 18-3-405.4)
- Unlawful electric sexual communication (CRS 18-3-418)
For most felony crimes, suspects may not be prosecuted once a three-year period of time has passed since the alleged offense. This includes drug felonies as well. But for the following crimes, the three-year limit does not begin running until the offense is discovered:
- Theft (CRS 18-4-401)
- Insurance fraud (CRS 18-5-211)
- Cybercrime / computer crime (CRS 15-5.5)
- Theft of trade secrets (CRS 18-4-408)
- Defacing or destruction of written instruments (CRS 18-4-507)
- Criminal simulation (CRS 18-5-110)
- Obtaining a signature by deception (CRS 18-5-112)
- Criminal impersonation (CRS 18-5-113)
- Offering a false instrument for recording (CRS 18-5-114)
- Dual contracts to induce loan (CRS 18-5-208) (learn more about real estate fraud)
- Issuing a false financial statement or obtaining a financial transaction device by false statements (CRS 18-5-209)
- Unlawful activity concerning the selling of land (CRS 18-5-302)
- Unlawful concealment of transactions (CRS 11-107-105)
- Embezzlement or misapplication of funds (CRS 11-107-107)
- Unlawful acts or omissions relating to financial institutions (CRS 11-107-108)
- Criminal offenses relating to savings and loan associations (CRS 11-41-127)
- Offenses relating to the Uniform Commercial Code (CRS, part 5 of article 5 of title 18)
- Offenses relating to equity skimming (CRS, part 8 of article 5 of title 18) (learn more about equity skimming – CRS 18-5-802)
- Offenses relating to identity theft (CRS, part 9 of article 5 of title 18) (learn more about ID theft – CRS 18-5-902)
- Offenses relating to bribery and corrupt influences (CRS, part 3 of article 8 of title 18) (learn more about bribery – CRS 18-8-302)
- Offenses relating to abuse of public office (CRS, part 4 of article 8 of title 18) (learn about official misconduct – CRS 18-8-404)
- Offenses relating to perjury (CRS, part 5 of article 8 of title 18) (learn more about perjury)
- Offenses relating to the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act (CRS, article 17 of title 18)
- Criminal offenses relating to securities fraud (CRS, part 5 of article 51 of title 11)
For vehicular homicide (CRS 18-3-106), there is a five-year time limit to prosecute after the collision. And if the driver also committed hit-and-run (CRS 42-4-1603) after the fatal crash, the time limit to prosecute is ten years.
The time limit to sue is six years for the following offenses:
- Bribery (CRS 18-8-302)
- Compensation for past official behavior (CRS 18-8-303)
- Attempt to influence a public servant (CRS 18-8-306)
- Designation of a supplier (CRS 18-8-307)
- Misuse of official information (CRS 18-8-402)
- Issuing a false certificate (CRS 18-8-406)
- Embezzlement of public property (CRS 18-8-407)
- Felony tax evasion (CRS 39-21-118)
- Felony violations of the Colorado Antitrust Act of 1992
The time limit to sue is ten years for felony-level unlawful sexual contact (CRS 18-3-404) when the victim is 15 or older. This also comprises attempt, conspiracy, or solicitation to commit this crime. And if the victim is under 18, the statute of limitations is ten years after he/she reaches age 18.
The statute of limitations for sexual assault is twenty years when the victim is 15 or older. This also comprises attempt, conspiracy, or solicitation to commit this crime. And if the victim is under 18, the statute of limitation is twenty years after he/she reaches age 18. Note that there is no SOL if the alleged rape was reported to law enforcement within 20 years of the incident, and there is DNA evidence of the suspect.
(Refer to the previous section for felonies that have no statute of limitations at all under state law.)
For most misdemeanor crimes – including drug misdemeanors – suspects may not be prosecuted once eighteen months have passed since the alleged offense. But for theft misdemeanors, this 18-month time period does not begin running until the alleged theft is discovered.
Note that for misdemeanor traffic offenses, the statute of limitations (SOL) for criminal proceedings is only one year after the incident.
For misdemeanor-level unlawful sexual contact (CRS 18-3-404), the SOL is five years after the alleged offense. If the victim is under 15, the SOL is eight years and six months after the alleged offense. (This comprises attempt, conspiracy, or solicitation of unlawful sexual contact as well.)
And for misdemeanor violations of the Colorado Antitrust Act of 1992, the time limit to prosecute is six years after the alleged crime. And the SOL for misdemeanor tax evasion (CRS 39-21-118) is four years and six months.
For most petty offenses – including drug petty offenses – suspects may not be prosecuted once six months have passed since the alleged offense. But for theft petty offenses, the six-month time limit does not begin running until the alleged theft is discovered.
For petty offense violations of the Colorado Antitrust Act of 1992, the time limit to prosecute is six years after the alleged crime.
The time frames to file a civil lawsuit depend on the claim. But in general, it ranges from one to three years. Potential plaintiffs should consult with an attorney.
- Colorado Revised Statutes 16-5-401 CRS. See, e.g., People v. Summers (Colo. 2009) 208 P.3d 251. See also People v. Sims, (Court of Appeals, Division 7, 2019) COA 66, 457 P.3d 719 (“[W]e interpret the legislature’s decision to modify “determine” with the phrase “in whole or in part” as evidence of its intent to vitiate the statute of limitations in every case (involving the enumerated statutes) where DNA evidence assists the police in “fixing conclusively” on a suspect.”). Prior to March 1, 2022, the statute of limitations for misdemeanor-level DUIs was 18 months. SB21-271.
- People v. McKinney, (Colo. 2004) 99 P.3d 1038 (Colo. 2004).