I'm often asked by clients if a case is too old to go to court, or if there case is so old it must be dismissed. This is understandable. Many defendants are arrested and then wait months for their first court date. For example, the Kaufman DA (wisely) tests all drugs at the DPS drug lag before filing a case. There is a dope backlog at the DPS lab in Garland (onward Prohibition!). That means a wait of 3-6 months for drug cases to be filed after arrest.
What these clients are asking is if the Statute of Limitations has run in their case. (There are also speedy trial implications but that's beyond the scope of this post).
What is the Statute of Limitations?
The Statute of Limitations (SOL) is a recognition that some cases are too old to prosecute. SOL prevents the State from filing cases after a certain amount of time has passed. Remember that pot you smoked in college? As a society we have decided you should not have to answer for such conduct twenty years later. Here is how the Court of Criminal Appeals described SOL-
The statute of limitations is an act of grace for the benefit of potential defendants, a voluntary surrendering by the people of their right to prosecute. This act of grace serves several objectives: (1) it protects defendants from having to defend themselves against charges when the basic facts may—or may not—have become obscured by time; (2) it prevents prosecution of those who have been law-abiding for some years; and (3) it lessens the possibility of blackmail. Proctor v. State, 967 S.W.2d 840 (Tex.Cr.App. 1998).
If a case is filed outside the SOL then your defense lawyer must raise this issue in a pre trial Motion to Dismiss.
What is the Statute of Limitations for _____________?
It depends on what you charged with. You can find this information in the Code of Criminal Procedure Article 12.
No Statute of Limitations- Murder/manslaugther, sexual assault with DNA evidence, and leaving the scene of an accident that results in death
Ten Years- theft of any estate by an executor/administrator. Theft by a public servant of government property, Forgery. Injury to a child, elderly individual, or disabled individual punishable as a felony of the first degree under Section 22.04, Penal Code; Sexual assault, unless there is DNA evidence or if the victim is under 18. Arson;
misapplication of fiduciary property or property of a financial institution;securing execution of document by deception; or certain Tax Code violations
Theft, burglary, robbery; kidnapping; injury to a child, elderly individual, or disabled individual that is not punishable as a felony of the first degree under Section 22.04, Penal Code; abandoning or endangering a child; or insurance fraud;
Ten Years From the 18th Birthday of the victim
Indecency with a child, Sexual assault under Section 22.011(a)(2), Penal Code, or aggravated sexual assault under Section 22.021(a)(1)(B), Penal Code;
All other felonies not already listed. This includes felony drug offenses.
All Misdemeanor offenses including DWI, marijuana possession, assault family violence etc.
When Does the Statute of Limitations start?
The day you (allegedly) commit the offense.