Every state has statutes of limitations in place, and they also exist for federal crimes. How long a statute is depends not only on geographical location but also on the level of crime (infraction, misdemeanor, felony) and on the type of crime. Additionally, statutes of limitations exist for civil matters.
The statute of limitation indicates how long legal action can be brought against a person after the act had occurred. In many cases, the statute starts on the day the action itself was committed, but there are exceptions. For instance, for certain actions, the statute starts on the day it was discovered, or on the day that it could reasonably be expected to have been discovered. This is a very important difference. For instance, the statute of limitations for most personal injury cases is two to three years. In the case of mesothelioma, an aggressive type of cancer caused by asbestos exposure, however, the clock starts ticking not on the day of exposure to the asbestos, but rather on the day of diagnosis. This is because it is not unheard of for there to be more than 50 years between the two. Not just that but statutes can toll in instances where someone is incarcerated, in a different state, or out of the country, for instance.
A criminal statute of limitations determines how soon criminal charges must be brought. Sometimes, the clock starts ticking on the day of the crime. In other cases, it starts ticking on the day of the arrest. The time limit denotes how long the prosecution has to file a formal complaint against a defendant. That being said, there are certain crimes that do not have a statute of limitations at all.
Why Is There a Statute of Limitations?
- It ensures that people will not indefinitely face the proverbial Sword of Damocles for something they did in the past.
- It ensures that the prosecution will act most urgently and efficiently.
- It ensures that the integrity of evidence is maintained. This includes witness testimony, which can become less reliable as time goes on.
In Texas, like in many other states, there are statutes of limitations for all crimes, but certain sexual assaults, murder, and other serious felonies are not bound by any such statute.
Statutes of Limitations by Crime in Texas
- Some human trafficking offenses, lethal hit and run, some sexual assault such as sexually abusing a minor, manslaughter, and murder do not have a statute of limitations.
- Compelling prostitution, arson, injury to a disabled person or elderly, forgery, and theft involving officials or fiduciaries have a 10 year statute of limitations.
- Bigamy, identity theft, fraud, certain tax crimes, money laundering, and misapplication of property of a financial institution or fiduciary property have a seven year statute of limitations.
- Endangering or abandoning a child, insurance fraud, robbery offenses, burglary, and other theft have a five year statute of limitations.
- All other felonies have a three year statute of limitations.
An important caveat is that if the victim of the offense is 17 or younger, then the statute of limitations is likely to become longer.
For misdemeanors, the statute of limitations in Texas is two years. The clock starts ticking on the day the crime itself was committed.
Exceptions to Statute of Limitations
As mentioned earlier, there are certain crimes in which there is no statute of limitations at all. What this means is that, regardless of how long ago the alleged offense took place, the prosecution can still bring charges against the individual.
One other exception is found in crimes involving sexual performance by a child under the age of 17. In that case, the statute of limitations is 20 years from the day of the offense.
Major Change on Statute of Limitations for Sexual Abuse in Civil Cases in Texas
Sexual abuse victims in Texas are allowed to bring civil charges against their assailant for damages and compensation. These include non-economic and economic damages, including moneys for pain and suffering. A big change happened in 2015, when Texas changed the statute of limitations associated with civil cases relating to sexual abuse. Specifically, the change meant that:
- Adults now have to start their civil suit within five years of the event taking place.
- Children now have to start their civil suit within 15 year of them turning 18.
In some cases, the victim does not know who the perpetrator is. To ensure that the statute of limitations does not run out before this becomes clear, it is now possible to file a “John Doe” or “Jane Doe” suit. This means that the verdict of that lawsuit will be applied once the suspect’s identity has been uncovered. Once the identity of the perpetrator is known, the victim has 30 days to amend the complaint and have the individual’s name added.
Additionally, if the sexual abuse took place at someone’s place of work, they can file a sexual harassment suit as well, which is a federal case. This complaint must be filed with the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) within 300 days of the alleged abuse or harassment. The claim will then be investigated and, if they deem it appropriate, the EEOC will then sue on behalf of the victim. Should they decide to proceed, the EEOC issues a Right to Sue letter. The victim then has 90 days to file a federal lawsuit. It is recommended to do so with the assistance of an employment lawyer.
Making a Government Claim in Texas
Under the Texas Tort Claims Act, Section 101.101, it is possible to make a government claim in Texas, but this must be done within six months of the accident occurring. In the notice, details of the damage or injury must be included, as well when and where the incident happened, and a description of the event. There are exceptions to the time period described in Section 101.101, however, because municipal and local governments can set their own time limits as well. In Austin, for instance, there is a 45 day time limit and in Houston, it stands at 90 days. It is important, therefore, to check what is the time limit in the municipality.
Tolling of Texas Statute of Limitations
In Texas, if someone is out of state, the statute of limitations pauses, which means it is tolled. It also tolls if a criminal complaint, information, or indictment is pending. The statute can be tolled indefinitely.
- Texas Criminal Statute of Limitations Laws. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://statelaws.findlaw.com/texas-law/texas-criminal-statute-of-limitations-laws.html
- Texas Code of Criminal Procedure – CRIM P Art. 12.01. Felonies (n.d.). Retrieved from http://codes.findlaw.com/tx/code-of-criminal-procedure/crim-ptx-crim-pro-art-12-01.html
- What Are the Texas Statutes of Limitations for Sexual Abuse? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.legalmatch.com/law-library/article/texas-statutes-of-limitations-for-sexual-abuse.html
- Civil Practice and Remedies Code, Title 5. Governmental Liability, Chapter 101. Tort Claims, Subchapter A. General Provisions (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us/Docs/CP/htm/CP.101.htm