Understanding the Statute of Limitations: Georgia Criminal Law
What is the statute of limitations for Georgia criminal cases? Contact the Office of ALJ for answers to this and additional resources. Call for a consultation!
What Does Statute of Limitations Mean?
Statutes of limitation refer to laws that determine the time limit within which to initiate a civil or criminal claim.
The time limit varies based on statutory provisions on the subject matter or criminal offense. Nevertheless, compliance with the stipulated time is mandatory in most cases; otherwise, the entire case or claim against the defendant could become invalid.
So, if you’re facing criminal charges based on an incident that occurred a while ago, it is important to understand the statute of limitations for the specific offense you’ve been charged with. If much time has passed, the statutory prosecution time limit may have also passed. In that case, identifying the issue early enough can help you avoid going through an invalid trial.
Keep reading for more insight on the statute of limitations for criminal offenses in Georgia and learn how an experienced criminal defense attorney can help you.
How Georgia Criminal Statutes of Limitations Work
The primary purpose of the statute of limitations is to ensure that criminal cases are commenced and disposed of as soon as possible. In many cases, a lengthy interval between the occurrence or commission of a crime and the trial is a disadvantage for defendants and the criminal justice system.
The passage of time could lead to the loss of substantial physical evidence. Key witnesses may have forgotten important details that ought to form part of their testimony. Some may be unavailable to testify at the trial, making it difficult or impossible for the prosecution to prove their case.
Subjecting a defendant to a trial in such circumstances would likely amount to unfair prosecution, especially since the evidence they could use for their defense could also have been compromised, degraded, or even lost.
The statute of limitations, therefore, serves the interest of justice by providing strict timelines within which criminal charges must be filed in court.
If, for any reason, the prosecution fails to charge a suspect to court within the set time limit, any charge brought after that time becomes invalid. Any trial or conviction obtained in such circumstances is also invalid.
The expiration of the statutory time limit can thus serve as a complete misdemeanor or felony criminal defense in applicable cases. So, as soon as you’re aware of the criminal charge against you, you might want to consult an attorney to assess your case and determine whether the statutory limitation period for the specific offense you’ve been charged with has passed.
Criminal Statutes of Limitations in Georgia
The time within which a criminal case must be prosecuted according to Georgia criminal law depends on the nature of the offense as follows:
A misdemeanor in Georgia is any offense other than a felony. It is punishable by imprisonment for a term that is less than 12 months.
Many misdemeanor offenses are fluid and could easily transform into more serious offenses. For example, a simple assault is categorized as a misdemeanor. But if the assault is against a pregnant woman, it becomes a high and aggravated misdemeanor.
Nevertheless, this class of offenses covers some of the most common crimes, including simple battery, a first-time DUI, or petty theft. For such offenses, the prosecution must begin within two years from the date the crime was committed.
Felonies are the most serious offenses in Georgia and are punishable by imprisonment for a term above 12 months.
Generally, the limitation period for prosecuting a felony charge is four years. However, there are a few exceptions, including the following:
- For crimes punishable by death or life imprisonment, like armed robbery, rape, or kidnapping, the prosecution must begin within seven years from the commission of the offense.
- The limitation period for the offense of forcible rape is 15 years.
- Felonies committed against minors under 18 years of age must be prosecuted within seven years from the date the offense was committed.
Felonies Without Limitation Periods
Under Georgia criminal law, some offenses, such as murder, can be prosecuted at any time without any statutory limitations. Also, where DNA evidence is used to establish the identity of the accused person, the following offenses may be prosecuted at any time notwithstanding the provision of any contrary time limit:
- Armed robbery
- Aggravated child molestation
- Aggravated sodomy
- Aggravated sexual battery
If DNA evidence is not used to determine the accused’s identity, then the general limitation period for those offenses would apply.
Certain crimes committed after July 1, 2012, against minors less than 16 years old can also be prosecuted at any time. These offenses include:
- Trafficking for sexual servitude
- Aggravated sodomy
- (Aggravated) child molestation
When Does Time Start to Run for Criminal Cases in Georgia?
Generally, the limitation period for criminal prosecution in Georgia starts to count from the day the offense was committed. However, this rule does not apply in certain circumstances, including the following:
If the victim of the crime is older than 65 years, the time starts to count only when the violation is reported or discovered by a law enforcement officer or agency.
If the crime occurred between July 1, 1992, and July 1, 2012, against a minor under 16years old, and involved offenses such as rape, child molestation, or incest, the time would only start to run once the victim turns 16 or the crime is reported to a law enforcement agency.
If the offense involves theft or conversion of public property by a government officer, the time doesn’t start to count until the person leaves the employment.
If the suspect is not resident in the state of Georgia or is unknown, time doesn’t start to count until they are identified or begin to reside within the state.
If the crime involves theft or conversion of their ward’s property by a trustee or guardian, the time doesn’t start to count while the accused holds such a position.
Can the Statutory Limitation Period Be Extended?
The time limit for prosecuting criminal cases under the Georgia criminal statute of limitations is mandatory, and non-compliance could make the entire criminal trial null and void. However, the law allows for an exception where an accused person is indicted for an offense within the statutory time limit, and the court rejects the indictment, or a nolle prosequi is entered by the prosecution.
If the limitation period expires after the initial indictment, the time is extended by six months from when the indictment was quashed, or the nolle prosequi was entered. The prosecution can then file another valid charge and commence a trial within six months.
How a Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help You
The statute of limitations on criminal prosecution protects you from facing a pointless trial if you’re being charged with an offense that occurred years ago.
If that is your situation, you would likely benefit from having an attorney represent you. Your attorney can assess your case and help you identify the specific limitation period. If it applies, they can ensure that the law works for your benefit by presenting the issue to the court on your behalf. This could see the charges against you dismissed for good.
Even if the limitations law does not apply to your case, your attorney can help you fight the charges and possibly develop a suitable defense strategy for you.
Do you have further questions about the statute of limitations for criminal offenses in Georgia, or if you’ve been charged with a crime and need help defending yourself, you can contact the Office of ALJ, P.C.
We’d be glad to answer your questions and fight your charges with you. Our DUI Lawyer can also represent you if you’re facing DUI charges in Georgia. Get in touch with us to get started with your criminal defense.