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Florida's Statute of Limitations in Criminal Cases

Florida's Statute Section 775.15 provides the general rules governing when the statute of limitations act as a bar to prosecution. Other statutes and case law provide for certain exceptions to the general rules.

For prosecutions in state court, after the defendant raises the issue of the statute of limitations as a bar to prosecution, the State has the burden of showing that the prosecution was commenced in a timely manner after a diligent search for and service of process upon the defendant.

The criminal defense attorneys at the Sammis Law Firm fight felony and misdemeanor cases in the Tampa Bay area, including Tampa and Plant City in Hillsborough County. Call us today at 813-250-0500 to discuss your case pending in Tampa, Hillsborough County, FL, or one of the surrounding counties including Hernando County, Pasco County, Pinellas County, Manatee County, or Polk County, FL.


Frequently Asked Questions Concerning the Statute of Limitations


When does Florida law consider the crime to be "committed" under Florida law?

Florida law provides that a criminal offense is committed either "when every element has occurred or, if a legislative purpose to prohibit a continuing course of conduct plainly appears, at the time when the course of conduct or the defendant's complicity therein is terminated." The statute also provides that the time starts to run on the day AFTER the offense is committed.


When is the prosecution "commenced" under Florida law after an arrest?

Florida law provides that the prosecution on a criminal charge on which the defendant has previously been arrested or served with a summons is "commenced" by the filing of an indictment, information, or other charging document.


When is the prosecution "commenced" under Florida law if no arrest occurs?

Florida law provides that a prosecution on a charge for which the defendant has not previously been arrested or served with a summons is commenced when either an indictment or information is filed, provided the capias, summons, or other process issued on such indictment or information is executed without unreasonable delay.

In determining what is reasonable, inability to locate the defendant after diligent search or the defendant's absence from the state shall be considered. The failure to execute process on or extradite a defendant in another state who has been charged by information or indictment with a crime in this state shall not constitute an unreasonable delay.


When does the Statute of Limitation not run in a criminal case?

Florida law provides that 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.


Florida's Statute of Limitations in Misdemeanor Cases

Second (2nd) Degree Misdemeanor - 1 year

First (1st) Degree Misdemeanor - 2 years


Florida's Statute of Limitations in Felony Cases

Third (3rd) Degree Felony - 3 years

Second (2nd) Degree Felony - 3 years

First (1st) Degree Felony - 2 years

Life Felony - No Statute of Limitations is Applicable

Felony that Results in Death - No Statute of Limitations is Applicable

Capital Felony - No Statute of Limitations is Applicable


Other Types of Criminal Offenses and Rules on Florida's Statute of Limitations

Any Theft Offense - Five Years

Any Violation of Probation - No Statute of Limitations is Applicable

Abuse, Neglect, Exploitation of Disabled Adults or the Elderly - Five Years


The History of Florida’s Statute of Limitations in Criminal Cases

At common law, there was no set time limit restriction under which a criminal charge was barred from prosecution. Time limitations, or statutes of limitation, for criminal prosecutions exist as a creation of statute.

In State v. Hickman, 189 So. 2d 254, 261 (Fla. 2d DCA 1966), the court explained:

The only purpose of a Statute limiting the time within which a criminal charge may be prosecuted is to protect every person from being interminably under the threat or cloud of possible criminal prosecution, which otherwise might be indefinitely delayed until the time when defense witnesses might die, disappear or otherwise become unavailable, judges would change office, or innumerable other time hazards might develop, which could conceivably defeat, or at least hamper, an otherwise good defense.

Since the creation of statutes of limitation, courts have held that the statute of limitation that was in effect when a crime was committed generally controls. See Beyer v. State, 76 So. 3d 1132, 1135 (Fla. 4th DCA 2012). Furthermore, the statutes of limitation in criminal cases should be construed liberally in favor of the defendant. Id.

The Florida Legislature may extend the limitations period without violating the ex post facto clause of the Florida Constitution, FLA. CONST. art. I, s.10., if the Florida Legislature makes the change before the prosecution is barred under the old statute and clearly demonstrates that the new statute applies to cases pending when the extension takes effect. See Section 775.15(3) F.S.; Andrews v. State, 392 So. 2d 270, 271 (Fla. 2d DCA 1980).


Time Limitations in Florida’s Statute of Limitations for Criminal Charges

Section 775.15, F.S., sets forth time limitations, or statutes of limitation, after which criminal prosecutions are barred. The statute of limitation for prosecuting a criminal case begins to run on the day after the offense is committed. Id.

An offense is deemed to have been committed when either every element of the offense has occurred or if it plainly appears that the legislative purpose is to prohibit a continuing course of conduct, at the time when the course of conduct or the defendant’s complicity therein is terminated. Id. Section 775.15, F.S., provides the following time limitations for initiating a criminal prosecution for a felony offense:

  • No time limitation for prosecuting a capital felony, a life felony, a felony resulting in death (Section 775.15(1), F.S.);
  • No time limitation for any sexual battery on a victim younger than 16 (Section 775.15(13)(c), F.S.);
  • A first degree felony sexual battery on a victim younger than 18 (Section 775.15(13)(b), F.S.);
  • A first or second degree felony sexual battery and the victim reports the crime to law enforcement within 72 hours (Section 775.15(13) and (14), F.S.);
  • A 10-year limitation applies to prosecutions for any felony that results in injury to a person when the felony arises from the use of a destructive device. (Section 775.15(7), F.S.);
  • A 4-year time limitation applies to prosecutions for a first degree felony (Section 775.15(2)(a), F.S.);
  • A 3-year time limitation applies to prosecutions for any second or third degree felony (Section 775.15(2)(b), F.S.).

Exceptions Based on the Establishment of the Identity of the Accused

Florida law also provides for certain very specific exceptions based on the identity of the accused. For instance, for certain offenses, the case may be prosecuted at any time after the date on which the offender’s identity is established, or should have been established through the exercise of due diligence, through the analysis of DNA evidence. Those exceptions based on the discovery of the identity of the accused include:

  • sexual battery;
  • lewd or lascivious acts or offenses;
  • aggravated battery;
  • any felony battery offense charged under Chapter 784, F.S.;
  • kidnapping;
  • false imprisonment;
  • sexual battery;
  • burglary;
  • robbery;
  • carjacking, and
  • aggravated child abuse.

If a DNA sample is the basis for the exception, then for these prosecutions, the DNA sample must be available for testing by the accused. See Section 775.15(16)(a)4., F.S.


Exceptions to the Statute of Limitations Based on the Age of the Victim

Florida law also provides an extension of time for certain types of charges if a victim is under the age of 18 including:

  • sexual battery;
  • lewd or lascivious behavior;
  • incest;
  • “statutory rape” under former s. 794.05, F.S.,
  • computer pornography.

In these cases, Section 775.15(13)(a) provides that the applicable period of limitation in does not begin to run until the victim reaches the age of 18 or the violation is reported to a law enforcement or governmental agency, whichever occurs first. If a victim 18 years or older reports a first or second degree felony sexual battery within 72 hours of the crime, there is no statute of limitation.

If the victim does not report the crime within this time period, the statute of limitation is 4 years for a first degree felony sexual battery. As provided in Section 775.15(14), F.S., first degree felony sexual battery is defined as non-consensual sexual battery under certain enumerated circumstances, including in part, the victim is physically helpless to resist, the victim is threatened, the victim is physically or mentally incapacitated, or the offender is law enforcement. Section 794.011(4), F.S.

If the victim does not report the crime within this time period, the statute of limitation is 3 years for a second degree felony sexual battery.

Likewise, if a 16 or 17 year old who is a victim of a second degree felony sexual battery does not report the crime within 72 hours, the applicable time period to bring a prosecution is 3 years. As provided in Section 775.15(14), F.S., second degree felony sexual battery is defined as non-consensual sexual battery without the use of physical force or violence likely to cause serious personal injury. Section 794.011(5)(b), F.S.

The 3 year limitation does not commence until the earlier of the date that the victim turns 18 or the crime is reported. Section 775.15(13)(a), F.S.?


Filing Motions to Dismiss on Florida's Statute of Limitations Statute

For more information on how the statute of limitations might be applicable in your criminal case, contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Tampa, FL, with the Sammis Law Firm.

We represent individuals charged with misdemeanor and felony offenses throughout the Tampa Bay area including the courthouses in Tampa and Plant City in Hillsborough County, Clearwater in Pinellas County, Lakeland and Bartow in Polk County, New Port Richey and Dade City in Pasco County, and Brooksville in Hernando County, FL.

Call 813-250-0500 to discuss your pending charges today. 

This article was last updated on December 14, 2016.