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Statutes of Limitation for Federal Charges

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The federal government exercises its own prosecutorial powers to bring offenders to justice. People who face criminal charges could incur penalties ranging from steep civil fines to imprisonment.

However, the government has a finite time frame in which to charge and try people suspected of committing many types of federal crimes. You can participate in your own criminal defense by learning about the statute of limitations for federal crimes.

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Federal Crimes Statute of Limitations Overview

A statute of limitation is defined as the amount of time a prosecutorial entity like the federal government has to file charges against a defendant who is suspected of committing a crime. For many federal crimes, the statute of limitation is five years. It begins from the time that the defendant commits the crime.

In fact, the U.S. Statute 18 USC 3282 stipulates that no individual can be prosecuted or punished for any federal crime that is a non-capital offense if the indictment for or the information about the crime is not exacted within five years from the time the crime was committed. By this law, the government must file and pursue charges within this five year time limit. If it purposely sits on the case without filing charges, it could be grounds for having the case against the defendant dismissed.

This finite time frame exists to ensure that defendants are allowed to exercise their constitutional right to a fair and speedy trial. Once you are charged with a federal crime, however, it can be imperative that you retain experienced legal counsel to ensure that your case is handled in a timely manner and that it is dealt with the highest level of urgency in the federal courts.

Federal Crimes with Longer Statutes of Limitation

Some federal crimes have statutes of limitation that are longer than five years. In particular, crimes like murder, some acts of treason, and some examples of terrorism have indefinite statutes of limitation. The government can charge and prosecute someone with these crimes regardless of how much time has passed since the offense occurred.

Other examples of crimes that have statutes of limitation extended beyond the five-year window include:

  • Some types of art theft crime
  • Sex crimes against children
  • Some types of banking fraud crimes
  • Certain computer crimes
  • Hate crimes relating to religious property
  • Passport fraud
  • Embezzlement
  • Racketeering
  • Arson
  • Failure to file a tax return
  • Tax evasion

These crimes have statutes of limitation that range from six to 20 years. Criminal contempt, however, has a statute of limitation of just one year.

Federal Immigration Fraud Statutes of Limitation

Immigration fraud is another example of a federal crime that may or may not abide by the five-year statute of limitation. Depending on the type of immigration fraud that is committed, the government could have up to 10 years to charge and prosecute someone suspected of this offense.

Examples of immigration fraud that can be prosecuted up to 10 years after it occurs include:

  • Using false or fraudulent citizenship papers
  • Impersonating another person as the applicant, declarant, petitioner, or witness to citizenship or naturalization
  • Getting citizenship or naturalization papers illegally
  • Making, selling, distributing, or reproducing false, forged, fraudulent, or counterfeit citizenship or naturalization papers
  • Not surrendering naturalization or citizenship certificates when ordered

Immigration fraud can extend to passport crimes as well, such as:

  • Issuing a passport without proper authority
  • Making false statements on an application for a passport
  • Falsifying, forging, counterfeiting, altering, or mutilating a passport
  • Using another person’s passport

The federal government has up to 10 years to charge someone with and prosecute any of these immigration fraud crimes.

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Reasons for Statutes of Limitation

Federal statutes of limitation exist primarily to protect people who could be charged with federal crimes. In fact, the justice system, in general, is weighted to favor defendants. It puts the burden of proof on the government and demands that prosecutors provide sufficient evidence to convict and send someone to prison.

With that, the statute of limitations for many federal crimes prevent people from having to defend themselves against crimes that took place so long ago that evidence may not exist to prove their guilt or exonerate them. Eyewitnesses may have relocated, be deceased, or no longer remember what happened. Material evidence likewise may no longer exist.

Further, statutes of limitations exist to ensure people get a fair and speedy trial, which is a constitutional right. People have the right to expect to be charged and tried in a reasonable amount of time rather than wait decades or longer to face charges and a trial.

Of course, a person can waive his or her right to a speedy trial and use this waiver of statute of limitations as a defense. To use it as a defense, however, the person must wait for the five-year time limit or other statutes of limitation to expire for the crime for which he or she has been charged.

Your Rights When Facing Federal Charges

If you find yourself charged with a federal crime, it can be imperative that you retain a skilled criminal defense lawyer right away. You preferably may look for one who has experienced arguing in federal court. You also want one with a solid success rate defending people in federal cases.

Your attorney can explain to you the charges that have been filed against you. He or she can also make sure the appropriate statutes of limitations are applied and that the charges are being filed and pursued within that time frame.

Depending on the charges you are facing, your attorney can also gather evidence that could exonerate you. If necessary, he or she may also be able to bargain down the charges so you avoid paying steep civil fines or serving time in prison.

The federal government has a finite amount of time to file charges for and prosecute federal crimes. These statutes of limitation are designed to protect defendants. You could avoid lengthy punishments and steep penalties from federal charges by hiring an experienced criminal defense lawyer to represent you.
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