Many movies and television shows refer to the statute of limitation. However, do people really know what it means and how it is applied? Legally speaking, the statute of limitation is a law that limits prosecutors to charging the defendant within a certain window of time. Not all crimes fall under statute of limitation and length of the period will vary based on the alleged crime.
Why do we have this law?
The statute of limitation operates under the premise that evidence gets lost, memories tend to fade and witnesses become scarce after a certain length of time. It also forces prosecutors to press charges in a timely fashion rather than having individuals held indefinitely without their case going to trial. If the time on a case passes the statute of limitation, it can be dismissed.
Statute of limitations in Massachusetts
Statute of limitation can apply to anything, ranging from murder to fraud to medical malpractice. It begins with the time at which the alleged crime was committed. Here is a short list with some windows of time for criminal charges:
- Murder: there is no statute of limitation
- Rape or abuse of a child: there is no statute of limitation
- Rape: 15 years
- Assault with intent to commit rape: 15 years
- Robbery, intent to rob: 10 years
- Drugged for sex: 6 years
- Assault and battery: 3 years
- All misdemeanors: 6 years
Living in the open and tolling
The statute of limitation applies to suspects who live in the state and are employed. These individuals are viewed as catch-able, so the time runs if they live in Massachusetts and are not charged. However, if the suspect leaves the state, the clock will stop or “toll” until the suspect returns to the state.
Contact an attorney if there are questions
The statute of limitation is also an act of mercy – the idea is that if the suspect reforms and lives an upstanding life without being charged, she or he can sometimes stop living in fear of prosecution. Discussing a case with a criminal defense attorney can sometimes put the suspects mind at ease, particularly if they find out that the statute of limitation has expired or there is little chance of prosecution.