In every state, there are time limits to which a prosecutor can put a case forward. That time limit is known as the “statute of limitations” and it exists for both criminal and civil cases. There isn’t just one single statute of limitations, however. Rather, they change depending on the state and on the type of crime that was committed. There are also crimes that have no statute of limitations at all, including violent crimes like kidnapping or murder, and some sexual crimes.
Civil statutes of limitations, meanwhile, tend to be much shorter, but they are also very complex. They usually start on the day an action occurred that a plaintiff wants to sue about, but there are exceptions to that as well. A good example is that of asbestosis, caused by exposure to asbestos particles, which can take many decades to become evident. In cases like that, the statute starts running on the day of discovery, or the day it is reasonable to discover the presence of asbestosis.
Statutes of limitations are in place for several reasons. Firstly, they ensure that evidence is preserved, particularly witness testimonies. Secondly, they make the overall justice system more effective and efficient. Thirdly, if someone has not committed a certain criminal or civil act for which they may be prosecuted in a set period of time, they may be considered rehabilitated. However, if someone is actively evading law enforcement, purposefully or not, the clock on the statute of limitations may not start running, or it may even be paused, known as “tolling”.
In the state of Florida, statutes of limitations restrict the length of time a prosecutor has to file criminal complaints against an individual. Like in other states, the exact nature of the alleged crime will determine which statute is applicable to them. Felonies resulting in death, for instance, do not have a statute of limitations at all. A misdemeanor or infraction, by contrast, has a statute of limitations of between a year and five years.
Statutes of Limitations by Crime in Florida
The Florida statutes of limitations are described in Section 775.15. They state that there is no statute of limitations for:
- Any felony offense resulting in death
- Any felony offense that can attract a life sentence
- Any death penalty felonies
- Perjury committed during official proceedings and prosecutions of capital (death penalty) felonies
Other statutes of limitations in Florida are:
- Four years for a first degree felony
- Three years for other felonies
- Two years for first degree misdemeanors
- One year for second degree misdemeanors
- One year for non-criminal violations
The state has also set statutes of limitations in place for more specific offenses. Those are:
- Five years for a first and second degree felony that involves the neglect or abuse of disabled or aged adults
- Five years for a securities transaction violation
- Five years from the day of discovery of an environmental control violation
- Three years for offenses in which breach or fraud of fiduciary obligations are classed as material elements
- Two years after leaving office for misconduct in public office, or the greater statute of limitations associated with the specific misconduct
- Four years for sexual battery, with the exception of certain sexual battery cases in which the statute is three years, which, in the case of a minor victim, starts running when they are 17 years old
The statutes of limitations for civil cases in Florida are:
- Four years for injury to a person
- Two years for libel or slander
- Four years for fraud
- Four years for injury to personal property
- Two years for professional malpractice
- Four years for trespassing
- Five years for written contracts (four for oral contracts and one for specific performance contracts)
- 20 years for domestic judgments and five years for foreign judgments
Exceptions to Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations is particularly complex in cases of sexual assault and abuse in Florida. As a standard, the statute is four years. However, when DNA analysis is involved, the statute of limitations is one year from the day DNA evidence was discovered. If this DNA is discovered after the original four year statute of limitations, the clock starts ticking for one year again.
Major Change on Statute of Limitations for Sexual Battery in Florida
The U.S. Supreme Court decreed a few years ago that it would be unconstitutional to retroactively change a statute of limitations. However, sexual battery on minors in Florida did see a change in the statute of limitations, going from four years to unlimited in certain cases. Additionally, Florida passed the 43 Days Inactive Act on June 11, 2016, when a sexual battery victim stated they were not aware of the statute of limitations of four years, and brought charges against their assailant four years and 43 days after the act.
Making a Government Claim in Florida
Under 768.28, any claims filed against Florida as a state, including its subdivisions and agencies, the state has waived its “sovereign immunity”. What this means is that it is possible to file certain torts against the state. Sovereign immunity is a centuries-old common law rule that goes back to British citizens not being allowed to sue the King, even if the King’s actions or acts injured them. The United States adopted this rule, but many states, including Florida, now agree that there are circumstances where this right should be waived.
Tolling of Florida Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations can be tolled in certain situations in Florida. However, it cannot toll for more than three years. Some of the situations acceptable for tolling include:
- Absence or purposeful concealment of a defendant. This ensures that defendants cannot needlessly delay proceedings against them.
- Mental incapacity or mental incompetence. This is only a reason for tolling the statute if said incompetence or incapacity existed before the alleged crime or injury was committed. If the injury or crime itself caused the incapacity or incompetence, then it does not lead to a tolling of the statute of limitations. The state of Florida also imposes a seven years total statute of limitations, including tolling.
- Arbitration proceedings, which take precedence over the charges. This encourages defendants and plaintiffs to attempt arbitration in order to resolve their dispute.
- Florida Statutes Title XLVI. Crimes Section 775.15. Time limitations; general time limitations; exception. (n.d.). Retrieved from Retrieved from http://codes.findlaw.com/fl/title-xlvi-crimes/fl-st-sect-775-15.html
- The 2017 Florida Statutes. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.leg.state.fl.us/Statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&URL=0700-0799/0775/Sections/0775.15.html
- What Are the Florida Statutes of Limitations for Sexual Abuse? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.legalmatch.com/law-library/article/floridas-statute-of-limitations-of-sexual-abuse.html