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The time period designated for when legal proceedings must happen is known as a statute of limitations. The reason for a statute of limitations in criminal cases is to make certain those with criminal charges against them are tried promptly. This eliminates the defendant having the burden of creating a legal defense against stale charges. When legal proceedings take too much time, evidence could be lost as well as the memories of witnesses fade and more.
Federal statutes of limitations have existed as long as people have been charged with Federal Crimes. During the assembly of the First Congress by the founders, the first federal crime laws were passed. They also made any prosecution of those crimes subject to a specified statute of limitations. They are similar to the current laws in place to promptly prosecute people charged with federal crimes.
When it comes to a federal crime that is punishable by death, there is no statute of limitations. This is also the case for some federal sex offenses as well as federal criminal acts of terrorism. Other federal crimes must have the prosecution of them start within five years following their occurrence.
The main reason for having a statute of limitations is to prevent defendants from being required to defend themselves from charges that happened long into the past. This could make it impossible for those accused of a federal crime to provide a proper defense and establish their innocence. Not having a statute of limitations violates a defendant’s right for due process under the law. This includes the right to have a fair and speedy trial. The statute of limitations can be used as a defense if it can be established the criminal indictment or complaint was filed after the expiration of the statute of limitations.
There are some crimes that come with a longer statute of limitations. Some circumstances could suspend or make the applicable statute of limitations longer. Certain crimes against financial institutions, art theft, arson, certain immigration offenses all have a statute of limitations that extends beyond five years. It may not matter what is the applicable statute of limitation. They may be suspended or extended based on certain types of circumstances. This could be wartime fraud against the government, bankruptcy, child abuse, DNA evidence, and more.
Under normal circumstances, the federal statutes of limitations start when a crime has been completed. With the federal crime of conspiracy, the crime is considered to be complete when one of the participants performs an affirmative act in the name of the conspiracy. The time period for conspiracies is determined to start when the last affirmative act is done to further the conspiracy. Other types of continuing offenses involve continuing obligations to report or register as well as different possession crimes and more.
Due Process and Ex Post Facto
This is common for constitutional limitation-related cases. In these cases, federal courts have ruled that the federal statute of limitations can be extended retroactively. The only requirement is that the previous statutes of limitation period must not have expired. This position has been confirmed by the United States Supreme Court.
There are situations where the federal statute of limitations is extended. This requires approval after a petition is filed with the court by the United States Attorney.
*Major fraud committed against the United States Government
*Offense occurred in a foreign country or case evidence is discovered in a foreign territory
*Overvaluing assets for a financial institution or insurance company as well as making a false report or statement
*Using papers for citizenship that are false or fraudulent
*Making a false report or statement as well as overvaluing assets to obtain a federal loan
*Impersonating an applicant, witness, or declarant during naturalization or citizenship proceedings
*Counterfeiting, falsifying or forging a statement to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)
*Illegally receiving naturalization or citizenship
*Falsifying a federal financial institution’s records
*The reproduction, distribution, sale or manufacture of counterfeit, false or forged naturalization or citizenship papers
*Falsification of bank records
*Selling legal citizenship or naturalization papers
*Embezzlement of funds from a federal financial institution
*Not surrendering a canceled naturalization certificate
*Unauthorized issuance of a passport
Federal statutes of limitations encourage law enforcement to quickly investigate a crime. Prosecutions are prevented if a defendant can show there was no filing of formal charges or indictment within the time period specified by a statute of limitation. Anyone charged with a federal crime should contact an experienced attorney. They will know a crime’s statute of limitations and make certain to provide the possible legal defense.