How the "Statute of Limitations" Works

The statute of limitations does not preclude the State from prosecuting an individual just because “X number of years” has passed since the date of the alleged offense. I start with that, because as a practicing criminal defense attorney, I find that people think that’s what it means.

The statute of limitations merely requires the State to file a formal charging instrument against the defendant within a certain time period. In Texas, the statute is 2 years for all misdemeanors, at least 3 years for felonies and sometimes more. (also see: more info about specific time periods for the Texas statute of limitations.)

Let’s use an assault arrest in Austin, Texas as an example.

If it’s a misdemeanor assault, the statute of limitations is 2 years. The Travis County County Attorney’s Office prosecutes misdemeanors, so they have two years to file a complaint and information at the Travis County Clerk’s office charging you with misdemeanor assault.

A complaint is a sworn document in which someone states under oath that they have “good reason to believe” that you committed the offense of misdemeanor assault. The information is the formal charging instrument, and for all intents and purposes is usually an almost verbatim copy of the complaint.

Once these documents are filed, the statute of limitations is “tolled”; that is, it stops running.

So, hypothetically speaking, if the prosecutor files the complaint and information in the 23rd month after the assault is alleged to haave happened, they are not required to take your case to trial in the next month. (If only it were so, because that would almost always be a practical impossibility for them.)

The case would then run its normal course, with all the resets and continuances for discovery that happen in any criminal case.

If it’s a felony assault, the statute of limitations is 3 years. The Travis County District Attorney’s Office handles felonies, so they have 3 years to take your case to a Grand Jury for indictment. Again, if you were indicted in the 35th month, the statute stops running, and the case could drag on well past 3 years after the date of offense.

Now, as a practical matter, this doesn’t happen very often. But, again, as long as the state filed the charging instrument, either an ‘information’ for a misdemeanor, or got a Grand Jury to return an indictment, the statute of limitations no longer applies.

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Comments (66) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
F.C. - September 17, 2007 12:11 PM

If a person has not been charged with a crime involving drugs, cooperated with the federal authorities, is there a statue of limitations concerning charging
the individual?

Nat - September 20, 2007 7:27 PM

Question: Say someone was charged with misdemeanor possession and sentenced to deffered adjudification. They then went through two years of probation after which they were verbally informed that they completed it by the county in which is was supervised. If then after a three year period they learned that a warrant had been issued by the county in which they were charged for Revocation of Probation. What is the statute of limitations on that warrant/misdemeanor charge?

TD - October 17, 2007 11:39 AM

Question -- I understand the Statue of Limitation Issue -- What if the complaint is filed -- warrant is issued and has not be executed by the state for over 2-years... Is there some type of SOL on how long the complaint and warrant can be on file (i.e is there some type of experitation). Note: The person has never went to court on the issue and has never been asked/notified to appear in court. The person was given a letter to pay a fine for 2+ year case that was not brought to court... This is a Texas issue.

mary - December 26, 2007 5:55 PM

So if Statute of limitations only applies to the filing of a charge, then once filed, and warrant of arrest issued, That arrest warrant is valid , with no limitations, forever (Until arrest) , regardless of classification of charge ? And if Classification makes a difference, what is the rule as applied to misdemeanors? I'm interested in it as it applies to Texas.

James Rhea - February 12, 2008 6:28 PM

Thanks for providing the information on the statute of limitations in criminal cases. This information cleared up a lot of confussion on my part.

james - March 4, 2008 6:13 PM

i recieved a letter in the mail a few weeks ago. in this letter it states that i recieved a minor in possession charge in 1993 .i sent a letter back saying i have not ever recieved anying from this point ever on this. i have never recieved a ticket of any sort ever .i am now married 3 kids and i work as captain of a boat .renewed my wheelhose and txdl numerous times never recieved anying from this what so ever .i think there trying to get money for nothing .what should i do.thxs james

Brody - March 7, 2008 5:21 PM

I heard in the state of Colorado, that the district attorney must officialy charge the accused within ten-days of the arrest. Is this true??

Daniel Martinez - March 31, 2008 12:12 PM

Question: Provided a misdemeanor assault has been filed in two years, how long does the state have after that for the charge to be prosecuted as a misdemeanor & as a felony?

star uribe - April 19, 2008 5:50 AM

i am an australian citizen, living back in Australia and i am looking for an answer to if there any statute of limitations in las vegas, i was arrested for battery on a police officer and battery domestic violence in 1997 that matter was never cleared up and i am currently applying for a non immigrant visa back to the states

Debbie - May 19, 2008 12:48 PM

if someone has warrants out for grand larceny and 2nd degree burglary, if they are not found and arrested within 6 years, are they still able to be arrested after the 6 year period (statute of limitations)?

Enrique - May 29, 2008 3:09 PM

DUI convictions stay in your record forever?..there's no statute of limitation?

Sam Kayser - May 30, 2008 2:07 PM

Your articale is very informative but I have a question. Is the complaint the same as a citation? What if I recieved a citation and the case has not reached the county clerk's offices yet? Are you saying that if within the next 2 years, they dont prosecute my case, my case will be dismissed and the charges dropped?

will garrett - June 26, 2008 1:36 PM

I have a misdemeanor warrant for theft, what is the statute of limitations on that after charges been filed?

d - August 4, 2008 1:50 PM

if you have a warrant for a class a2 felonie drugs in new york statr plus a warrant for a probstion violation its been 5 year are they re any statur of limitations?

kristen - August 20, 2008 4:34 PM

What if the misdemeanor assault charges are filed and dropped 2 days later, does that still fall under the statute b/c it wasn't taken to court.

Marcharie Spencer - September 9, 2008 2:19 PM

To whom it may concern,my fiance is in jail as of today, in 1997 he was hit by a car ,and in his possession he had cds 65 vials of crack. He took a plea for 364, he never went to sentecing , he was picked up on July 16, 2008 for driving without a license, since 1997 he has not been in any trouble , he has been an stay at home dad, and he helps with my entertainment company, i need to know what can i do , he has a public defender, and to be honest ,she is not helping .

Scott Patterson - October 17, 2008 7:56 PM

Is there a way to erase or apply for jobs without being continually denied for jobs because of a felony nearly 10 years ago? Most all of my background is in Mgnt or Supervision and I cannot land a job paying anything with that on my record.

FREDDIE NEVAREZ - January 9, 2009 2:19 AM

Back in 04/2000 (El Paso, TX) I was wrongfully arrested on a posession of controlled substance by a constable of Precint 3. Til today the case was never brought forward to th DA office for prosecution. I am in the process of changing careers and in doing so my new potential employer has done a background check which is showing this charge/arrest from 04/2000. AFter speaking with the DA office (2nd floor) I was advised that the case was never presented to their office and I would need to get a hold of the arresting constable/track doen this case and inquire as to what they plan to do with it, etc...Is their a statute of limitations when it comes to such potential charge? Why is this appearing on a background check if this charge/arrest never made it through the proper legal channels/system? There was never any kind of disposition on the case other then it never being presented to the DA's office. What can I do, how can your law offices help me with this matter? Do statute of limitations apply with me being "formally charged"?

Please help. I can be reached via email or by phone at 9159220432.

FREDDIE NEVAREZ - January 9, 2009 2:19 AM

Back in 04/2000 (El Paso, TX) I was wrongfully arrested on a posession of controlled substance by a constable of Precint 3. Til today the case was never brought forward to th DA office for prosecution. I am in the process of changing careers and in doing so my new potential employer has done a background check which is showing this charge/arrest from 04/2000. AFter speaking with the DA office (2nd floor) I was advised that the case was never presented to their office and I would need to get a hold of the arresting constable/track doen this case and inquire as to what they plan to do with it, etc...Is their a statute of limitations when it comes to such potential charge? Why is this appearing on a background check if this charge/arrest never made it through the proper legal channels/system? There was never any kind of disposition on the case other then it never being presented to the DA's office. What can I do, how can your law offices help me with this matter? Do statute of limitations apply with me being "formally charged"?

Please help. I can be reached via email or by phone at 9159220432.

Gary W. Gladd - January 30, 2009 2:26 PM

I have a misdemeanor on my background from 12 years ago. It was for burglary of a motor vehicle. (I stole some stereo equipment when I was 18.) I am now 30 and this is still showing up on my background check 12 years later. I have a letter showing this and showing this is the only thing stopping me from getting a better job. Is there a limitation on how far back background checks can go for misdemeanors?

Chris - February 1, 2009 4:29 AM

My situation is this. I was served a Federal search warrant, and questioned by a Special Agent. I was not arrested, and they then left my house. The next day I hired a lawyer. In the process of representing me he contacted the US Attorney, let them know that he was now my legal counsoul, and that if they wanted to proceed they didn't have to arrest me, they could contact him and he would arrange for me to present myself.
Now, 6 years later, they have contacted him and said that they want to finally clear this off their files, and that they are getting ready to proceed.

My question is if my attorney's actions 'tolled' the statute of limitations? No complaint or information has EVER been filed against me in the 6 years, yet here they go ready to proceed.

stacey - March 25, 2009 4:12 PM

I was questioned about a felony commited and was not arrested, BuT I never heard from the courts. I moved a few years later and thought everything had cleared but when applying for a job it came out that I had a bench warrant. Is this covered under the statue of limitations?

Peter Edwards - April 4, 2009 1:07 PM

I noted your comments regarding the correct interpretation of a "statute of limitations". Extending this for a moment, consider the case where an indictment is issued by a grand jury by the accused is never arraigned. Is there a time limit wihtin with an arraignment must occur after a grand jury indictment is issued?

koula - May 1, 2009 10:52 PM

i was off my psychotrophic meds, and tried to buy something at target w/ a c.c. that wasn't mine. the charge didn't go through, and Target security called the cops. i was not in my right mind, because i didn't try to destroy those c.c.'s & condinued shopping. The p.d. came & handcuffed me & took me to the police station. one of the cops said "2 felony 5's", and 1 felony 6... i was marandized at the station, and declined to speak with them. They put me in a cell, and about 10 min later the good cop said if i had someome w/ a valid driver's license, he would release me. So, my husband came & got me. I am troubled because I wasn't charged with anything there at the p.d. station. is thie wierd, or is this a procedural error that will not allow them to prosecute me? thank you soooo much!!!

Dave - May 31, 2009 9:45 AM

I have been cited with misdemeanor "disorderly conduct" in the Texas city municipality of Flower Mound outside of Dallas....I received a court date which I did not make so I believe there is now a warrant issued for my arrest...

Given this is at the city municipality court level and not the county or state can you speak to the ramifications of the 2 year statute of limitations and whether this charge will exist until resolved?

Thank you in advance for your response...

ricky abercrombie - June 9, 2009 9:54 AM

I was contacted by a state trooper from a D.P.S. office and he confronted me about me getting a fake I.D. in oct. of 1999 and this is 2009. He is threatening to go to the D.A. to file charges. Has the statue of limitations expired almost three years ago?

james - August 28, 2009 12:59 PM

My question are for those that have been incarcerated for Involuntary Manslaughter, Assualt w/Deadly weapon, or drug convictions. What is the statute of limitation for those that are trying to work, but has been out of jail for atleast 9 years? When will those become eligible to NOT have to disclose their criminal background, without worrying about fabricating on application?

daniel carpenter - October 7, 2009 7:54 AM

I was looking at the fla statute of limitations online and while doing this I came across an ammendment HB549 and it said House of Rep analysis and it was passed but i looked for it again in the statute of Limitations and didnt find it. My question is are there other places to look for changes made to the statutes as 755.15 has the exceptions listed with the limits together.

jimmy - October 7, 2009 3:10 PM

I have a warrant for felony probation violation..failure to report to my p.o....its from 1994...what do you reccomend i do?? If youre wondering how ive never been caught...im in mexico

Gary - October 12, 2009 10:07 PM

my son was given two citations: expired inspection sticker and no liability insurance while he was test driving a car he was doing mechanic work for a customer, he was 16 when he was pulled over, he was never called in for a court date until this week; he is now 20 years old.
Is there a statute of limitations or any statutes that he can use in court to have these tickets dismissed?

JKovATX - October 28, 2009 1:14 PM

Here you say: the State has to file a formal charging instrument against the defendant.
Is the defendant notified there is a formal charge against them?
Or can the formal charge kept "secret" until the State is ready to act on it, gather additional evidence etc, even if this takes 3+ years.

theo pinson - October 29, 2009 12:08 PM

In May of this year I was assaulted with a knife by my ex-fiancee at her residence; she awoke me after going through my phone while I was asleep; this action was unprovoked; I did not call an ambulance nor the police.
Is it possible to press charges on her?

Angel Ramos - December 12, 2009 7:10 PM

Is there a statue of limitations on drug charges on a 19 year old drug charge in the state of Pennsylvania? City of Philadelphia

jerry - January 18, 2010 10:40 PM

how often is a case dismissed under statute of limitations for felonies?
how does the defendant know when an indictment has been submitted?

jorge marquez - March 18, 2010 8:45 PM

can a charged of burglary of habitation in february of 2010 be enhanced by brining forward a domestic violence charge that happend in 1999 in the state of texas?

bill - March 25, 2010 6:50 AM

So if someone was arrested for a misdemeanor drug charge, then released on a pr bond, but then left the state for 4 years, could he still go to court over that incident?

jim - March 30, 2010 10:27 AM

I WAS SHOT IN THE BACK OF THE HEAD.
IT WAS WRITTEN AS FELONIOUS ASSAULT, I DO NOT KNOW IF THERE IS A STATUE OF LIMITATION ON THIS CHARGE LET ME KNOW IF THER IS. THANK YOU JIM

barry Shuping - April 21, 2010 6:09 PM

My daughter's boyfriends ex-girlfriend's mother is threatening to press sexual assault charges for when he was with her in June of 2008 when she was plus or minus one week from her 17th birthday unless he lets her have custody of the child conceived during this time. He was 37 months older than her. The girl was promiscuous and had been living with another man who was beating her. The child was removed from the mother and placed with the father for burning him four times with a curling iron.
Current statute of limitations is ten years. Was it different in 2008.

Logan Stone - April 23, 2010 3:26 PM

My problem is Federal Speddy trial code of procedure-Title 18 Chapter 208 Sec 3161- states that speddy trial start's either at time of arrest or indictment which ever is later.

If federal speddy trial protections only starts at the time of arrest --then in essense all the cops have to do to defeat speddy trial protections is wait until they want to arrest somebody no matter how long after the alleged offense occurs. Under this defintion speddy trial rights are a total joke.

Rob - April 27, 2010 3:13 PM

Texas Education Code section 22.0834. Our company works in and around schools. We have a convicted felony drug charge on one empolyee. This charge happened about 12 years ago. The person served time did community service, which happened before employing this person. Now that schools require background checks on sub-contractors is there a statute of limitation on this persons record? Rob

tom - May 3, 2010 3:40 PM

is there a staute of limitations for an indictment on drugs in new york city for drugs in queens county

jason - June 17, 2010 2:25 PM

lets say its past the 3 yr mark for the felony case. will the case get drop

jason - June 17, 2010 2:25 PM

lets say its past the 3 yr mark for the felony case. will the case get drop

Erica - July 19, 2010 12:58 PM

My boyfriend was arressted for simple possession of marijuana in Lower Township NJ, back in 1988 or sometime close to that. At the time he worked offshore, and was on a fishing trip for 21 days during which time he received a failure to appear and they blocked his drivers licence. I was wondering if there is a statute of limitations for the drug charge-we have attempted to pay the $100 fine for the block on his licence and we were told that the court case has to be handled first. Don't know what to do!

Ulonda - October 18, 2010 11:03 AM

What is the statute of limitations that the prosecution has to re-file or re-submitt an indictment or complaint?

The charge is Felony Theft 20,000 - 100,000

jason - December 27, 2010 4:12 PM

I was pulled over by an dallas contable about 2 yrs ago .and the officer handed me a ticket that is $300. For an tint on a older car that has no regulate and I had to leave the state due my family I came back to state of tx and finding out I had a warrent for my arrest and I had the ticket paid now how do I know the warrent of my arrest has been lift and remove cause I am trying to get a decent job and fear they will make my driving record look like a mess when I haven't had any ticket from any other state but texas and all of my tickets have been paid and apperd in court couple of time please let me and give me some info about this matter thanks

Tony Dean - February 1, 2011 2:58 PM

On February 4, 2010, my husband called an ambulance due to a problem I was having which involved a bad reaction to a prescribed medication which caused me to pass out and fall. In Limestone County, it is common practice for the county sheriff's office to send officers to the scene. They thought that he had abused me due to the scratches and bruises from the falls. They did not arrest him, however one of the officers came back in the house and blindsided my husbsand with a flat hand to the forehead and continued to beat him and in doing so knocked a tooth out. My husband had to go to the emergency room. Another officer came in the house and told him "that was enough" so they left. My husband immediately called 911 and told them to send an officer back because he wanted pictures and a report of this incident which they did. Now, almost a year to the day, they keep calling him to docket call but when he says "not guilty" he is told to hash things out with the DA. The DA will not return any of his calls. Today he finally spoke to the Assisstant DA who said that he needed information on the medication, etc. to determine if he was going to file charges. My question is...if they haven't filed charges, then why do they keep calling him to court, and what is the statute of limitations on an officer assaulting an individual in their own home and then not arresting him. Of course, they couldn't take him in anyway without lying that he was resisting arrest.

Chris - March 11, 2011 3:19 PM

I am being prevented from getting a licence in Texas because of 12 year old traffic violations and Failure to appear warrants. I do not recall the events in question, and i was really hoping there was some sort magic SOL... but i guess not. My question is, when i go to court, i am pleading not guilty. I dont think the officer/officers who issued the citations are still under thier employ, will it negate the charges if I am not allowed to face my accuser? Grasping wildly here, but I need a gameplan.

mike flynn - March 21, 2011 1:04 PM

I got a misdemeaner dwi three and a half years ago.It came to light on a background check.So I sent off for a check of my case and it came back that a court date had not been set yet.What can I do??

Robert McCaghren - April 29, 2011 1:45 PM

Johnson County, Tx
Less than 2 oz. marijuana and Rx pain pill-belonged to parent; (2 possession) over ten years ago. Arrest warrant-long ago. Now I'm told Johnson County maintains this warrant unless paid c. $400. No statute of limitations? Just taking
this at face value / guessing? I would assume the county would have had to re-file several times? Or SOL doesn't apply to arrest warrant?
The defendant hasn't lived in that county since 2001. Does it seem likely the county would have re-filed a case like this to avoid the
SOL?

nate lee - October 23, 2011 3:03 AM

I have already been arrested for a felony . If i don't go to court is there still statutes of limitation on how long warrants will be issued.

paul - October 23, 2011 8:17 PM

i am a member of an irrivocable trust, which is very clear that all $ coming out the trust be disbursed equally to ALL TRUST MEMBERS. I had my part stole by family members giving my part to themselfs, and one was not even a trust member, it adds up to about $175.000 or more, it was over 10 years ago, do i have re-course, concerning statutes limitations in Texas?

paul - October 23, 2011 8:17 PM

i am a member of an irrivocable trust, which is very clear that all $ coming out the trust be disbursed equally to ALL TRUST MEMBERS. I had my part stole by family members giving my part to themselfs, and one was not even a trust member, it adds up to about $175.000 or more, it was over 10 years ago, do i have re-course, concerning statutes limitations in Texas?

Mary Ellen - December 18, 2011 3:23 AM

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Stephany - January 13, 2012 9:52 PM

what motions or complaints need to be filed in a case where an unconscious man then concious man while strapped and handcuffed. to a gurney. is tazed a min. of 10 times and beaten with a police maglight by several dupities.Also what timeline does he have to file civil or criminal charges?

Todd Pollard - February 9, 2012 8:37 PM

what is the statute of limitations on a check I wrote on 2-24-09. The check was only 75.00 dollars but now they are threatening to revoke or suspend my drivers license. In addition they say the total to pay now is 236.00 dollars? can any one HELP I am disabled now and my only income is from SSI DISIBILITY.

Dana - November 12, 2012 11:19 AM

My ex husband got picked up for a joint THREE YEARS ago...and he just now received a letter saying he needs too be in court? Can they do this on a misdemeanor?

Frances Rondeau - July 13, 2013 5:59 PM

question what happens to a 36 year old warrant that was never served?
the warrant is still on my brothers record. How can a person get it off the record?
Thank You

dennis braccini - August 17, 2013 9:46 PM

How long does the prosecution have to prosecute after grand jury indicts ? I have two separate felony cases in different parts of texas that have been indited.I have yet to appear in court or be arranged in both cases.one is 3years 10 months and the other is over 5 years !!! Warrants have.recently been issued in both cases. When is a drug possession case to old to proceed ? I'm sure there are many factors but here in Calif a case is "dead" after one year.

dennis braccini - August 17, 2013 9:46 PM

How long does the prosecution have to prosecute after grand jury indicts ? I have two separate felony cases in different parts of texas that have been indited.I have yet to appear in court or be arranged in both cases.one is 3years 10 months and the other is over 5 years !!! Warrants have.recently been issued in both cases. When is a drug possession case to old to proceed ? I'm sure there are many factors but here in Calif a case is "dead" after one year.

dennis braccini - August 17, 2013 9:46 PM

How long does the prosecution have to prosecute after grand jury indicts ? I have two separate felony cases in different parts of texas that have been indited.I have yet to appear in court or be arranged in both cases.one is 3years 10 months and the other is over 5 years !!! Warrants have.recently been issued in both cases. When is a drug possession case to old to proceed ? I'm sure there are many factors but here in Calif a case is "dead" after one year.

dennis braccini - August 17, 2013 9:47 PM

How long does the prosecution have to prosecute after grand jury indicts ? I have two separate felony cases in different parts of texas that have been indited.I have yet to appear in court or be arranged in both cases.one is 3years 10 months and the other is over 5 years !!! Warrants have.recently been issued in both cases. When is a drug possession case to old to proceed ? I'm sure there are many factors but here in Calif a case is "dead" after one year.

dennis braccini - August 17, 2013 9:48 PM

How long does the prosecution have to prosecute after grand jury indicts ? I have two separate felony cases in different parts of texas that have been indited.I have yet to appear in court or be arranged in both cases.one is 3years 10 months and the other is over 5 years !!! Warrants have.recently been issued in both cases. When is a drug possession case to old to proceed ? I'm sure there are many factors but here in Calif a case is "dead" after one year.

dennis braccini - August 17, 2013 9:48 PM

How long does the prosecution have to prosecute after grand jury indicts ? I have two separate felony cases in different parts of texas that have been indited.I have yet to appear in court or be arranged in both cases.one is 3years 10 months and the other is over 5 years !!! Warrants have.recently been issued in both cases. When is a drug possession case to old to proceed ? I'm sure there are many factors but here in Calif a case is "dead" after one year.

dennis braccini - August 17, 2013 9:55 PM

How long does the prosecution have to prosecute after grand jury indicts ? I have two separate felony cases in different parts of texas that have been indited.I have yet to appear in court or be arranged in both cases.one is 3years 10 months and the other is over 5 years !!! Warrants have.recently been issued in both cases. When is a drug possession case to old to proceed ? I'm sure there are many factors but here in Calif a case is "dead" after one year.

Allie - September 27, 2014 2:41 AM

Touche. Outstanding arguments. Keeep uup the amazing spirit.

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