Serious felonies, such as certain sexual assaults and murder aren’t bound by a statute of limitations in Texas.
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Statute of Limitations in Texas
In many cases, the statute of limitations begins when an individual commits the offense. Several factors may affect the usual limitations. For instance, if law enforcement discovers a crime many years after it was committed, the statute of limitations may begin according to when the crime should’ve been discovered. When special circumstances are present, the court may decide to “stop the clock,” or toll the statute of limitations.
Tolling may occur when:
- The accused individual has evaded capture for at least several years and is considered a fugitive.
- The accused faces another pending indictment for the same/similar offense. In that instance, the time frame begins after the individual allegedly committed the last continuing criminal activity.
The statutes of limitations vary by crime and nuances of these limitations are complex. The following provides a general, non-inclusive summary of Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. Art. 12.01:
#1: No Statute of Limitations
The laws of Texas have determined that certain felony crimes listed in Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. Art. 12.01(1) have no statute of limitation period, including:
- Manslaughter and Murder
- Sexual Assault (Texas Penal Code Section 22.011) or Aggravated Sexual Assault
- Continuous Sexual Abuse of a Young Child/Children (Texas Penal Code Section 21.02)
- Sexual Assault (when DNA tests don’t readily determine the perpetrator’s identity)
- Indecency with a Child (Texas Penal Code Section 21.11)
- Hit and Run Accidents involving death (Texas Transportation Code Section 550.021)
- Continuous Trafficking of persons (Texas Penal Code Section 20A.03)
#2: 20 Years
The statute of limitation period for certain criminal offenses in Texas is 20 years. Article 12.01(5) says that the 20-year limitation period is applicable if the investigation shows the victim is less than 17 years old (at the time of the alleged commission of the crime) or 20 years from the victim’s 18th birthday, including:
- Sexual Performance by a Child (Texas Penal Code Section 43.25)
- Burglary (Texas Penal Code Section 30.02)
- Aggravated Kidnapping (Texas Penal Code Section 20.04(a)(4)) if the offender intended to abuse or violate the victim sexually
#3: Ten Years
Under Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. Art 12.01(2), certain felony offenses in Texas bear a 10-year limitations period from the date on which the crime was allegedly committed, including:
- Theft of estate (personal, real, or mixed) by an administrator, trustee, executor, or guardian, with an intention to defraud creditors, distributees, heirs, wards, legatees, settlor, or beneficiaries of a trust in such estate.
- Forgery (uttering) or passing or using forged documents or instruments.
- Sexual assault (except as provided in #1).
- Compelling prostitution (Texas Penal Code Section 43.05)
- Theft of government property by a public servant.
- Injury to a disabled or elderly person, punishable as a first-degree felony under Texas Penal Code Section 22.04.
#4: Ten Years from Victim’s 18th Birthday
Under Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. Art. 12.01(6), certain criminal offenses are subject to a 10-year state of limitation. In the following offenses, the limitations period is 10 years from the victim’s 18th birthday:
- Injury to a Child (Texas Penal Code Section 22.04)
- Trafficking of Persons (Texas Penal Code Section 20A.02(a))
- Compelling Prostitution (Texas Penal Code Section 43.05(a)(2))
- Bigamy (Texas Penal Code Section 25.01)
#5: Seven Years
Under Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. Art 12.01(3), the statute of limitation is seven years from the date on which an offense was committed for certain felony charges, including:
- Misapplication of financial institution property or fiduciary property
- Execution of a document using deception
- Felony Violation (Tax Code, Chapter 162)
- False statements made to secure credit or property (Texas Penal Code Section 32.32)
- Debit or credit card abuse (Texas Penal Code Section 32.31)
- Fraudulent possession or use of identifying data or information (Texas Penal Code Section 32.51)
- Money Laundering
- Medicaid Fraud (Texas Penal Code Section 35A.02)
#6: Five Years
Under Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. Art. 12.01(4), specific felony offenses have a five-year statute of limitations from the date on which the crime was allegedly committed, including:
- Injury to a disabled or elderly individual (unless punishable as a first-degree felony under Texas Penal Code Section 22.04)
- Endangering/abandoning a child
#7: Three Years
Under Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. Art. 12.01(7), all other felonies have a three-year limitation period, including:
- Driving While Intoxicated with a Child Passenger
- Driving While Intoxicated (felony repetition)
- Intoxication Manslaughter
Unless a felony offense is specifically listed, the statute of limitations period is three years from the date on which the offense was committed in Texas.
#8: Two Years (Misdemeanor Offenses)
Under Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. Art. 12.02, misdemeanors have a two-year limitation period, such as:
- Some DWI charges (including Driving While Intoxicated, Driving While Intoxicated with Blood Alcohol Content Level greater than 0.15 percent, and Driving While Intoxicated with an Open Container)
- Theft/vandalism (damages are less than $2,500)
- Marijuana possession (up to four ounces)
Article 12.02(a) states that information or indictment for Class A or B misdemeanors may be prosecuted within two years from the date on which the defendant committed the offense (and not afterward). Article 12.02(b) says that an information or complaint about a Class C misdemeanor may be brought within two years from the date on which the crime was committed (and not afterward).
Periods of Limitations for Solicitation, Attempt, Conspiracy, and Aggravated Offenses
Under Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. Art. 12.03:
- The statute of limitations for a criminal attempt is identical to that provided for an offense attempted.
- The statute of limitations for organized crime is equal to the more serious offense (i.e., the subject of organized crime or conspiracy).
- The statute of limitations for criminal solicitation is identical to the limitation period for felony solicited.
- The statute of limitations for an aggravated offense is identical to the limitation period for the primary crime.
In Cases Involving the Statute of Limitations
If the accused or his or her criminal defense attorney doesn’t bring up the statute of limitations, the prosecution is free to pursue the case. For that reason, the statute of limitations is an important defense strategy.
Defense counsel must present the issue to the court and petition for dismissal of the case under Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 27.08(2). If the defense doesn’t challenge the statute of limitations in the initial case, it’s possible to present the issue on ex-post-facto to potential decriminalize or mitigate certain acts during the first appeal.
An experienced defense attorney may challenge time limits for specific crimes to lower the number of charges his or her client faces or to argue for full dismissal of the case. He or she may also ask the judge to instruct the jury regarding the appropriate statute of limitations. If the defense attorney raises the issue at trial, the prosecutor has the burden to prove that the limitations period hasn’t expired.
The criminal appellate courts in Texas have concluded that the defense forfeits the statute of limitations defense if it isn’t asserted “at or before” the stage at which the defendant argues guilt or innocence.
Statute of Limitations and Your Defense
As you can see, determining the time at which the statute of limitations begins may play an essential role in whether the limitations period has passed.
The statute of limitations is established to protect defendants from the requirement of facing charges in which evidence goes stale and witnesses aren’t available because the state waited to bring a prosecution. Many factors may alter how the statute of limitations is applied.
To determine the applicable limitation period for a specific charge or circumstance, contact the Law Office of Brett A. Podolsky to schedule an initial case evaluation.