The statute of limitations provides a maximum period of time after a violation of civil or criminal law can no longer be prosecuted in court. This statue prevents the prosecution of an individual for violations committed a number of years ago, which would constitute unfair punishment to prosecute the individual in present time. There is not a statute of limitations for all crimes, as murder can be punishable at any time, but lesser crimes, such as misdemeanors are generally subjected to statutes of limitations. All “heinous” crimes have an unlimited statute of limitations as well as violations of international law, such as genocide and war crimes.
The status of limitations is necessary as all cases will degrade over time. This includes fading evidence, shoddy testimony from witnesses with poor recollection, changing crime scenes and record destruction. Most crimes that have statues of limitations will have the “discovery rule” which allows the statute of limitations to begin upon the discovery of the wrongdoing. In this way, for example, patients that contract mesothelioma from asbestos exposure several decades prior can sue in civil court between two to three years after discovering the ailment. This is especially important in civil cases as wrongdoing is not always readily apparent. The discovery rules can apply to criminal cases too and has been applied to sexual abuses cases against minors that later remember the abuse when they become adults.
In the event of continuous violations of the law, the statute of limitations is applied to the last possible date that the violation occurred. Therefore, if a violation of the law occurs while the initial crime’s statute of limitations is in effect, then the first crime will not expire. The series of crimes is charged as one crime and the statute of limitations begins after the last crime has been committed. The statute of limitations can also be suspended in the event that the criminal is a fugitive, or the crime can be charged in abesentia and a verdict rendered without the fugitive present. Crimes committed against minors may have its own statute of limitations that allows the child to bring suit against the other party once they become a legal adult.
It is important when dealing with a civil matter to be aware of the statute of limitations. Different jurisdictions will have different laws defining statues and these laws will vary wildly by state. A local lawyer will be able to inform you on the nature of the statute of limitation laws in your area and your options to seek damages in civil cases. Most personal injury claims will be limited to two – three years after discovery, but this is more of a benchmark than a guideline. Be aware that for cases based on civil wrongs committed a number of years ago, the case will be difficult to prosecute and your chances of winning damages are diminished. For these cases, a specialist lawyer will be your best asset. Specialist lawyers, such as those that prove mesothelioma claims will have research tools to locate the necessary evidence and will be aware of the statute of limitations for your case.