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How long can authorities take to initiate criminal proceeedings against a suspect?

The length of time the authorities have to initiate legal proceedings against someone is called the statute of limitations. In most federal criminal investigations, the statute of limitations is five years—meaning the charge must be brought within five years of the date the crime was committed.

However, some federal crimes have longer time limits. For example:

  • Ten years. Arson, defrauding a bank, and violations of immigration laws have a ten-year statute of limitations.
  • Twenty years. Art theft carries a twenty-year statute of limitations.
  • Lifetime. Certain crimes against children (such as kidnapping or sexual abuse) can be charged anywhere from ten years to the length of the child’s lifetime, whichever is longer.
  • No limit. Capital crimes, including murder or acts of terrorism, do not have a statute of limitations. In addition, the government does not have to adhere to a time limit if it has evidence that a person was actively avoiding authorities by leaving the country or going into hiding.
  • Flexible limits. Some crimes do not occur on one specific date, but can happen over a period of months or even years. In cases where a crime is ongoing, the statute of limitations does not begin until the crime or conspiracy has ended.
  • Foreign exceptions. If a federal prosecutor needs extra time to gather evidence from a foreign government, the statute of limitations may be extended to allow for international assistance with the investigation.

What to Do if You Are the Target of a Criminal Investigation

It is unwise to simply “wait out” the period of investigation. If federal investigators have begun building a case against you, you should speak to a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Even if you intend to cooperate with the police, it is vital that you do not release any information without legal counsel at your side. Call Mordock Law Group today at (888) 254-0064 to find out how we can help.

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