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Loudoun County Attorneys > Blog > Criminal Defense > Criminal Statute of Limitations in Virginia

Criminal Statute of Limitations in Virginia

Statutes of limitations are the amount of time someone has to take legal action. In civil law, it is the amount of time that the plaintiff has to sue the defendant for damages. In criminal law, it is how long the prosecution has since the commission of the crime to prosecute. A skilled criminal defense attorney can use statute of limitations as one possible defense to a crime.

Purpose of Statute of Limitations

Statutes of limitations exist for many different reasons, but they are all centered around protecting the defendant. One reason for statutes of limitations is that evidence that may have been available to exonerate someone from the crime may have been lost or decayed. It puts the defendant in an unfair situation to rely on evidence that may not be available. Another reason for statutes of limitations is so that someone does not have to worry indefinitely about a wrong they committed. Especially with relatively minor crimes, there should be some point where someone can move on with his or her life. The third reason is that lawmakers feel that if someone has a cause of action against someone, the person should pursue it and not “sleep” on his or her rights. The same goes for the state and criminal prosecutions.

When Does the Clock Start Running?

When people talk about statutes of limitations, a common analogy is to think of a clock that starts when the crime was committed and stops when a person is charged. However, there are some events that will stop the clock, such as being in hiding or out of state. Statutes of limitations are not intended to protect people who are purposely avoiding prosecution.

Statutes of Limitation in Virginia

The statute of limitations in Virginia ultimately depends on the crime, but there is not a statute of limitations for felonies. Most states have no statute of limitations for murder because it is seen as egregious enough that prosecution should occur whenever possible. However, many states do have statutes of limitations on rape and other sex crimes, though Virginia does not. Virginia tends to have harsh criminal penalties and the lack of statutes of limitations for felonies is in line with this priority. There are some animal-related felonies that do have statutes of limitations, such as cruelty to animals, which has a one-year statute of limitations for agricultural animals and a five-year statute of limitations for non-agricultural animals. There are also some exceptions to the lack of statute of limitations for felonies, but the vast majority of felonies in Virginia can be prosecuted at any time.

Misdemeanors in Virginia generally have one-year statute of limitations. The exceptions to this rule are petit larceny, which has a five-year statute of limitation, and a two-year statute of limitations for an attempt to produce an abortion.

Contact a Leesburg, Virginia Criminal Defense Attorney Today

If you have been charged with a crime, you should contact a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Our experienced criminal defense attorneys at Simms Showers, LLP represent clients in Leesburg, Loudoun County and Fairfax County and can help to find the best defenses against your charges.




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