What is a Statute of Limitations?
The United States is not unique for having statutes of limitations; in fact, the idea migrated across the pond — originating in ancient Rome. A statute of limitations puts a time limit on the filing of civil lawsuits and the prosecution of crimes. No state has a statute of limitation for murder, although different states vary concerning the law’s other particulars.
There are several reasons to have statutes of limitations, some of which include:
- It protects the state from having its court system tied up in incessant civil disputes.
- It protects the state from losing resources to endless investigations of crimes long past and lacking in evidence.
- It protects accused persons from witnesses whose memories get fuzzier with time.
- It allows accused persons to put the accusations behind them and move on with productive lives.
Sometimes figuring the time frame of the statute of limitations is not as obvious as it first appears because it is tolled, or stopped, for a period of time. The time that is tolled does not count toward the statute of limitations.
In Texas, the statute of limitations is tolled when the accused is absent from the state. This exception could add years to an otherwise short statute of limitations. Therefore, accused persons should contact their attorneys before leaving the state. Texas also tolls a statute of limitations during any pendency of indictment, information or complaint.
Texas Law and the Statute of Limitations
Depending on the type of lawsuit, civil cases in Texas have statute of limitations ranging from one to 15 years. In these cases the clock “starts ticking” when the incident occurred. For example, the statute of limitations for personal injury from an automobile accident begins on the day of the accident.
Similarly the statute of limitations for most criminal cases begins when the crime occurred. In Texas, the statute of limitations for misdemeanors is two years. However, felonies have different time frames based on the seriousness of the crime. The following are some statutes of limitations for felonies:
- Murder, manslaughter and sexual assault involving specific DNA evidence: No statute of limitations
- Theft by a public servant and forgery: 10 years
- Injury or harm to the elderly and some cases of sexual assault: 10 years
- Arson, fraud, theft of fiduciary property or identity theft: Seven years
- Other types of theft and kidnapping: Five years
- Other felonies: Three years