A statute of limitations is a period of time in which the State of Florida must file criminal charges against a person. The main purpose is to provide finality to a criminal act even at the cost of potentially allowing a guilty person to go free. The legislature has made a determination that this interest in finality is more important than a conviction on certain crimes. With that said, there are other crimes where Florida’s legislature has determined there not to be a limitations period. As you can imagine, the lack of limitations period is reserved for the most serious of crimes.


Florida’s Statute of Limitations

Florida’s criminal statute of limitations is found at Fla. Stat. 775.15. Florida’s limitations scheme divides crimes into five categories, generally. From these general categories, there are numerous exceptions. When reviewing a criminal charge from acts that occurred more than a year prior to the commencement of the case, it is imperative for a criminal defense lawyer to review the statute. To see all the relevant periods, please refer to the statute. The general categories are:

  • Capital felony, life felony, or a felony that resulted in a death: No limitations period
  • First-Degree Felony: 4 years
  • Second and Third-Degree Felonies: 3 years
  • First-Degree Misdemeanor: 2 years
  • Second-Degree Misdemeanor and non-criminal violations: 1 year

An offense is “committed” for purposes of starting the running of the limitations period when every element of the criminal act has been committed. For a continuing criminal act (i.e., conspiracy), it begins to run the course of conduct or the defendant’s involvement ends. All periods begin the day after the act has been committed.


Tolling of Statute of Limitations

There are situations where the statutory period essentially pauses. In legal terms, it can be tolled. Generally speaking, a person’s conduct in leaving the State is what stops the period from running.

Fla. Stat. 775.15(5) states:

The period of limitation does not run during any time when the defendant is continuously absent from the state or has no reasonably ascertainable place of abode or work within the state. This provision shall not extend the period of limitation otherwise applicable by more than 3 years, but shall not be construed to limit the prosecution of a defendant who has been timely charged by indictment or information or other charging document and who has not been arrested due to his or her absence from this state or has not been extradited for prosecution from another state.

There was a time when the law required the State of Florida to prove that it had conducted a diligent search for a person in order for the period to toll. However, this was changed by a Florida Supreme Court decision that simply held that the State of Florida must simply prove that a defendant was out of state or had no place of abode or work within the State for the tolling statute to take effect. Robinson v. State, 205 So.3d 584 (Fla. 2016).

Statute of Limitations versus Speedy Trial

It is common for people to confuse a limitations period and a person’s right to a speedy trial. To explain the right to a speedy trial is beyond the scope of this article. Suffice it to say, for the purposes of this article, that they are very different. Speedy trial is a Constitutional right and/or a procedural right where a limitations period is a creature of the legislature. There are different rules for each. Look for a future article to explain the differences.