What is a statute of limitations?
A statute of limitations is a law that sets the maximum time after an event within which legal proceedings may be initiated. In most jurisdictions, such periods exist for both criminal law and civil law such as contract law and property law, though often under different names and with varying details.
Civil statutes of limitations define the time period during which a plaintiff may file a lawsuit against a defendant. If a lawsuit is filed after the statute of limitations expires, the defendant may be able to have the case dismissed. The length of the statute of limitations varies depending on the type of claim, the jurisdiction, and the circumstances of the case.
Criminal statutes of limitations define the time period during which a prosecutor may file charges against a defendant for a criminal offense. If charges are filed after the statute of limitations expires, the defendant may be able to have the charges dismissed. The length of the statute of limitations varies depending on the type of crime and the jurisdiction.
There are a few exceptions to statutes of limitations. For example, there is no statute of limitations for murder in most jurisdictions. Additionally, the statute of limitations may be tolled, or paused, in certain circumstances, such as if the defendant is a fugitive or if the plaintiff is a minor.
Statutes of limitations serve several purposes. They protect defendants from being prosecuted for crimes that happened long ago, when evidence may be lost or witnesses may have died. They also protect plaintiffs from bringing lawsuits after too much time has passed, when memories may have faded and evidence may be lost.
If you are considering filing a lawsuit or criminal charges, it is important to speak with an attorney to determine whether the statute of limitations has expired.