Criminal prosecutors are tasked with taking evidence gathered by police and turning it into criminal charges, when appropriate, and possibly a trial. But there is a time limit on how long prosecutors have to try criminal defendants. These limits vary depending on the type of crime, with misdemeanor charges generally having shorter limits than more serious felony charges. Here is a quick introduction to criminal statutes of limitations in general, followed by an outline of the statute of limitation laws in Oklahoma.
How Criminal Statutes of Limitations Work
Criminal statutes of limitations are designed to ensure speedy criminal trials that are fair and based on the best possible evidence. Physical evidence of a crime, like fingerprints and DNA, and testimonial evidence, like officer statements and eyewitness accounts, can degrade or even disappear over time. Therefore, the sooner the evidence can appear at trial, the better. Statutes of limitations vary in length because the justice system is attempting to balance the interest in prosecuting the most serious offenses with the interest in not having criminal charges hang over a person's head indefinitely.
Normally, the statutory “clock” on most crimes runs only while the alleged perpetrator remains visible in the state where the crime occurred. If the suspect is outside the state or otherwise in hiding, the clock will pause, and resume running if and when the suspect reenters the state. This prevents criminals avoiding prosecution for serious crimes by running, hiding, and trying to wait out the authorities.
Criminal Statutes of Limitations in Oklahoma
The following table lists the specifics of Oklahoma's criminal statutes of limitations.
||Criminal statute of limitations
||A statute of limitations tells you the time frame when the prosecution must bring a charge for a crime.
||Oklahoma Statutes sections 22-151 to 22-153
- A case for murder can be started at any time.
- A case for solicitation of murder in the first degree must be started within 7 years after the crime is discovered.
- A case for bribery, embezzlement or misappropriation of public money or other assets, falsification of public records, or conspiracy to defraud the government must be started within 7 years.
- A case for criminal conspiracy, embezzlement, criminal state income tax violations, identity theft, financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult, or Medicaid fraud must be started within 5 years.
- A case for false or bogus check must be started within 5 years.
- A case for fraud or workers' compensation fraud must be started within 3 years of the date the crime is discovered. This time limit cannot be longer than 7 years after the crime was committed.
- A case for violations of the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Code must be started within 3 years.
- A case for arson must be started within 7 years.
- A case for any other felony must be started within 3 years.
||A case for any misdemeanor must be started within 3 years.
|Crimes in Which a Child Is a Victim
|| Prosecutions for sexual crimes against children must be started by the victim's 45th birthday. This limit is suspended if there is DNA evidence in the case; in those situations, a case can be brought at any time as long as it is within 3 years of the date the identity of the person who committed the crime is established.
|Acts During Which Statute Does Not Run
||The statute of limitations does not run when the defendant is outside the state or does not usually live in the state.
- Cases for accessory after the fact have the same time limit as the felony for which the person acted as an accessory.
- Cases for criminal violations in which a deadly weapon was used in the commission of a felony or attempt to commit a felony must be started within 7 years.
Note: State laws are always subject to change, usually through the enactment of new statutes or the issuance of higher court decisions. Be sure to contact an Oklahoma criminal defense attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.
Research the Law
Oklahoma Criminal Statute of Limitations: Related Resources
Charged With a Crime in Oklahoma? Find a Defense Attorney
State statutes of limitations vary, and they can be confusing. If you would like legal advice regarding a criminal matter, you can contact an Oklahoma criminal defense attorney. You can also find more information and resources in FindLaw's section on Criminal Law Basics.