Statute of Limitations Explained
By Sandy Attwood [July 19th, 2012]
Guest post contributed by Sandy Attwood, for Attorneys.com. Sandy is a criminal defense attorney and in her spare time she enjoys writing about various other aspects of the law.
The statute of limitations is a policy in the legal system that enforces a time limit on prosecuting someone for a crime. It applies to both criminal and civil cases. Whether minor or significant, cases must be reported within a preset period of time; however, the statute of limitations does not apply to a heinous crime like murder. The maximum time to file a case can vary widely depending on the location and the offense. After the time limit, an institution called prescription will prevent the case from being filed.
By law, there is no loophole that can overturn this statute of limitations policy after the preset period of time has passed. However, the time will reset if the individual commits the same crime again. While on trial, the defendant must be prosecuted within the maximum time or the case will be dismissed. If, however, the defendant goes on the run during the trial, the statute of limitations will be suspended.
The purpose of the statute of limitations is to ensure that justice is done, both for the defendant and the plaintiff. The persons involved are encouraged to go to trial as quickly as possible because when a case is prolonged, evidence can be corrupted or disappear and memories can fade, leading to inaccurate testimony. There are countless defendants who have been wrongfully convicted due to a prolonged case.
Even those who have been suffering unknowingly long after an event took place will have to go by the statute of limitations. Cases such as medical malpractice, for example, still fall under this policy. If a person were to discover that their illness or injuries stemmed from negligence, they would have to file a suit within the time limit set by their state.
The subject of repressed memories has been a controversial issue within the legal system recently. A victim of abuse is given a set number of years after their 18th birthday to report the crime, but a victim testifying from repressed memories may have problems going to trial on their testimony alone. A case can be successfully prosecuted only with sufficient evidence, but reliable evidence of the abuse may be impossible to produce initially.
The statute of limitation is a code enforced throughout the world. However, the United States and most other nations do not apply the statute of limitations to heinous crimes, such as genocide and war crimes. Treaties have also inducted this code into international law.
The need to go to trial for any type of case is a hardship. It is an experience that could bring about significant emotional trauma, especially if the incident was violent. However, in order to ensure justice for a person's wrongdoing, the victim must react promptly. The police and a lawyer should be contacted as soon as possible. The individuals involved should cooperate and all evidence must be present to avoid any problems or lapses of justice in the case. If you are the victim of some type of crime, make sure you consider how the statute of limitations will affect your case. In some situations, it can be easy to lose track of how much time has passed. Your attorney can advise you how best to handle your specific case.