Statutes of Limitations in Federal Court

Cantin Mynarich LLC are experienced federal lawyers and one of the things that we check is whether the federal government waited too long to file charges and whether the statute of limitations has expired.

A statute of limitation is a time limit for the filing of charges against a defendant. The general federal statute of limitations for a felony is 5 years and is found in 18 U.S.C. §3282 which states:

Except as otherwise expressly provided by law, no person shall be prosecuted, tried or punished for any offense, not capital, unless the indictment is found or the information is instituted within five years next after such offense shall have been committed. 

The main purpose of a statute of limitations is to keep defendants from having to defend themselves from charges that occurred so far in the past that it makes it impossible to fairly and properly defend oneself. In many cases, important evidence may no longer be available, witnesses have moved or died or have just forgotten critical details of information, all of which would make it harder to defend against a criminal charge. Statutes of limitation exist to avoid many of these types of problems and to prevent the possible violation of a defendant’s right to receive due process and a fair trial under the law. If a defendant believes that a charge has been filed outside of the permissible statute of limitations period, a pretrial motion must be filed to raise this issue with the trial court. If it is not raised,  the defendant will likely have waived their right to use this as a defense.

However the general 5-year statute of limitations found in §3282 does have many exceptions within other provisions of the federal code. For capital crimes, such as capital murder, there is no statute of limitations (18 U.S.C. §3281). Terrorism involving death or serious bodily injury or harm does not have a limitation period (18 U.S.C. §3283). A very common area of law prosecuted by the federal government involves white-collar crimes, many of which have their own statute of limitations. Major fraud against the United States involving charges of fraud against the federal government (with a loss amount of $1,000,000.00 or more) in any grant, contract, loan, etc. is subject to a 7-year statute of limitations from the date that the crime was committed (18 U.S.C. §1031). The statute of limitations for fraud and other crimes “involving” banks and other financial institutions is 10 years from the date of the offense. Those offenses include bank fraud (18 U.S.C. §1344); mail fraud or wire fraud (18 U.S.C. §1341 and 1343); violation of the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) that is predicated upon bank fraud (18 U.S.C. §1962 and 1344); receipt of commissions or gifts for procuring loans (18 U.S.C. §215); theft, embezzlement, etc. by a bank officer or employee (18 U.S.C. §656 or 657); falsifying bank records (18 U.S.C. §1005 and 1006 and 1007); making a false statement or overvaluing assets for a federal loan (18 U.S.C. §1014); or a false statement or overvaluing assets related to insurance

Adding to the already complicated nature of federal statutes of limitations is the separate offense of conspiracy which has very different limitations periods. The general federal conspiracy statute is located at 18 U.S.C. §371 which involves any conspiracy to commit a federal crime or to defraud the United States. A conspiracy offense under §371 must be charged within the applicable time period for the underlying offense with the statute of limitations beginning to run on the date that the last act that was part of the conspiracy was taken. This “last act” rule applies also to conspiracy charges involving fraud against the federal government by making fabricated claims (18 U.S.C. §286), and drug trafficking conspiracies filed under 21 U.S.C. §846.

If you are being investigated for a federal crime in Springfield, Jefferson City, or Kansas City, Missouri, give Cantin Mynarich LLC a call to discuss your situation further.