Understanding Statutes of Limitations in Georgia Criminal Cases

In today’s post we will explore the concept of statute of limitations in Georgia law. Simply put, a statute of limitation is a time limit on how long the state can wait to prosecute you for a crime after it has occurred. The general rule is that the more serious the crime is, the longer the state can wait to prosecute you. For example, the general statute of limitations for misdemeanors is two years. This means that for misdemeanors the state must file an indictment or accusation charging you within two years of the date the alleged offense or offenses occurred. If prosecutors indict or accuse you even a day after the statute of limitations has run, the whole case must be dismissed. However, once the prosecutors have formally charged you in a case, there is no statute of limitations defense.

General Statutes of Limitation for Felonies

In Georgia, there is no statute of limitations for murder. That means that even if police discover or recover evidence of a murder from 50 years ago, they may still charge someone. The crime of rape must be charged within 15 years. Charges for all other serious felonies punishable by death or life imprisonment must be brought within 7 years and all other felonies must be brought within 4 years.

Special Exceptions to the Rule

While the above are the general time limits for prosecution, there are several exceptions. For example, for low-level felonies the statute of limitations becomes 7 years instead of 4 when there is a victim in the case younger than 18. Similarly, in sex crime cases, the statute of limitations does not begin to run either until the alleged victim reaches 16 years old or when the alleged victim reports the crime (whichever occurs earlier). For victims 65 years or older, the statute of limitations does not begin to run until the crime is reported or discovered by the state. Another important exception comes up when DNA analysis is used to prove identity in serious felonies such as armed robbery, kidnapping, rape, and other serious crimes. In these instances, the statute of limitations is voided, and the crime can be prosecuted at any time. It is important to be aware of these and other exceptions that can apply to a statute of limitations defense.

Excluded Periods of Time

Georgia Code 17-3-2 provides that the time period within which prosecution must begin (according to 17-3-1) does not include any period which:

(1)  The accused is not usually and publicly a resident within this state;(2)  The person committing the crime is unknown or the crime is unknown;(3)  The accused is a government officer or employee and the crime charged is theft by conversion of public property while such an officer or employee; (4)  The accused is a guardian or trustee and the crime charged is theft by conversion of property of the ward or beneficiary.

In a recent case, the Georgia Court of Appeals defined the instance when the “person committing the crime is unknown” as when ‘the State possesses sufficient evidence to authorize the lawful arrest of that person for the crime charged.” See Riley v. State, S18A1048 (Feb. 18, 2019).

Bottom Line

If there is any question whether the statute of limitations has run in your case, contact us today for a free consultation! If time has expired and no exception applies, you could very well have the case against you dismissed!