What Is a Statute of Limitations?

Gavel and handcuffs - Virginia criminal statute of limitations

Statutes of limitations are set periods of time following an alleged criminal act after which a criminal prosecution may not commence. In other words, once the statute of limitations has passed, you are in the clear! That's the good news. The bad news is that Virginia is one of 7 states, along with North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Wyoming (noticing a geographic trend?), that have no statute of limitations for felonies. So you can be prosecuted for a felony committed in Virginia no matter how long ago the alleged act occurred.

However, Virginia does have statutes of limitations for misdemeanors. The general rule is that the statute of limitations for misdemeanors is 1 year. These are governed by Virginia Code Section 19.2-8. There are exceptions, however. Petit larceny must be prosecuted within 5 years. Unlawful abortion must be prosecuted within 2 years. There are various other exceptions for offenses rarely charged, often involving campaign finance crimes and malfeasance in office. Some of these apply in felonies as well.

The bottom line is that if you are charged for an offense that occurred long ago, you need to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. It may be possible, depending upon the crime, to secure a complete dismissal of the charges based upon the statute of limitations. Only by talking to an experienced defense attorney will you know if this is an option in your case. Contact us today, we are here to help.

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