What crimes in California have no statute of limitations?

Posted by Neil Shouse | Feb 05, 2019 | 0 Comments

statute of limitations california
There are a few California crimes that have no statute of limitations period

Under California criminal law, a statute of limitations (“SOL”) refers to the maximum time period for which a prosecutor can file criminal charges.

There are, however, a few California crimes that have no limitations period. Under California Penal Code 799 PC, charges of the following crimes can be brought against a person at any time:

  • offenses punishable by death (e.g., felony-murder);
  • offenses punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for life or for life without the possibility of parole (e.g., murder); and,
  • embezzlement of public money.

Please note that a statute of limitations will apply to all other crimes that do not fall into one of the above categories. But not all crimes will have the same SOL.

The statutory period for bringing a case begins when a criminal offense is discovered.

What does California Penal Code 799 PC say about SOLs?

PC 799 is the California statute that says some offenses in California do not have a statute of limitations period. This means a prosecutor can file charges of these crimes at any time.

In particular, the following crimes have no SOL under California law:

  • offenses punishable by death;
  • offenses punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for life or for life without the possibility of parole; and,
  • embezzlement of public money.

Are other California crimes subject to a statute of limitations period?

A SOL will apply to all other offenses that are not listed in Penal Code 799. Please note, though, crimes in California have different statute of limitation periods. The SOL for an offense typically changes with the severity of the crime.

According to California Penal Code 800 PC, crimes that are punishable by imprisonment for eight years or more have a SOL of six years. Under California Penal Code 801 PC, felonies (or offenses punishable by imprisonment) have a statute of limitations of three years. And, less severe charges involving misdemeanors have a SOL of one year (in general).

There are definitely exceptions to these rules. Consider, for example, California wobblers. These are crimes that a prosecutor can charge as either a California misdemeanor or a felony. The statute of limitations for these offenses will vary depending on how a prosecutor decides to charge the underlying offense.

What is the Discovery Rule?

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 February 4, 2019. If authorities do not learn of the crime until January 1, 2020, then they have until January 1, 2021 to bring misdemeanor charges.

Why have statute of limitations?

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.

About the Author

Neil Shouse

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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