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Alabama Criminal Statutes of Limitations 

Kesling Law Firm  June 6, 2024

The statute of limitations is a legal principle that sets a maximum time limit within which legal proceedings must be initiated. This concept is designed to ensure fairness by preventing the prosecution of cases based on evidence that may have deteriorated over time. Different areas of law have varying statutes of limitations, reflecting the nature of the offenses and the necessity for timely legal action. For instance, civil cases like personal injury or contract disputes typically have different time limits compared to criminal cases

When it comes to criminal law, the statute of limitations varies based on the severity of the crime. Misdemeanors generally have shorter time limits, whereas more serious crimes, such as felonies, may have longer periods, or no limitations at all.  

In Alabama, the specific time frames for initiating criminal prosecutions are set out in the state's statutes. These limitations are crucial in ensuring that justice is served while balancing the rights of the accused and the interests of society. 

Understanding the statute of limitations for criminal cases in Alabama is crucial whether you're facing charges or seeking justice. If you or a loved one needs criminal defense representation in Baldwin County, Alabama, contact us at the Kesling Law Firm today. 

Criminal Statute of Limitations in Alabama

A "statute of limitations" in the context of criminal law is crucial for several reasons. It ensures the integrity of evidence, keeping it fresh and reliable. Also, it helps guarantee the reliability of witnesses, ensuring that their memories are still accurate and trustworthy when a case is brought to trial.  

However, certain crimes have no limits, and they can be prosecuted at any time. The law keeps the time limit open because these are the most serious and heinous offenses, usually punishable by life imprisonment or death. 

Crimes Without a Statute of Limitations in Alabama

While many crimes are subject to these time restrictions, certain severe offenses in Alabama can be prosecuted at any time, irrespective of when they were committed. These include: 

  • Capital offenses of any kind: Crimes that are considered so severe that they can result in the death penalty or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. These typically include murder, treason, and espionage. 

  • Felonies involving the use, attempted use, or threat of violence: Serious crimes where the perpetrator uses, tries to use, or threatens to use physical force against another person. Examples include assault, battery, armed robbery, and kidnapping. 

  • Felonies resulting in serious physical injury or death: Offenses that cause significant bodily harm or lead to someone's death, such as manslaughter, aggravated assault, and vehicular homicide. 

  • Sex offenses involving victims under 16 years of age: Crimes that involve sexual acts or exploitation of minors under the age of 16. This includes statutory rape, child molestation, and production or distribution of child pornography. 

  • Arson: The criminal act of deliberately setting fire to property, which can result in damage to buildings, forests, and other structures. 

  • Forgery: The act of falsifying documents, signatures, or other items with the intent to deceive or defraud. This can include falsifying checks, legal documents, or identification. 

  • Counterfeiting: The creation of imitation money, goods, or documents with the intent to deceive. This often involves producing fake currency, fake trademarks, or fraudulent documents. 

  • Drug trafficking crimes: Serious offenses related to the manufacturing, distribution, or sale of illegal drugs. This includes large-scale operations involving the production and transport of substances like cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and other controlled narcotics. 

The fact that these crimes are exempt from the statute of limitations reflects the seriousness and societal impact of these crimes. 

Time Limits for Other Felonies

For other felonies not mentioned above, Alabama generally imposes a five-year statute of limitations. This means prosecutors must initiate criminal actions within five years of the alleged crime.  

An exception to this general rule includes theft by conversion of state or county revenues; this specific offense has a six-year statute of limitations. 

Time Limits for Misdemeanors

For misdemeanors, Alabama typically imposes a one-year statute of limitations. This includes offenses like petty theft, simple assault, and disorderly conduct. 

However, there are some exceptions to this rule as well. Certain misdemeanor offenses have longer time frames for prosecution, including: 

  • Class A misdemeanors: These more serious offenses can result in a maximum penalty of up to one year in jail. The statute of limitations for these crimes is two years. 

  • Misdemeanor sexual offenses: Certain misdemeanor sex crimes against minors have a statute of limitations of three years. 

  • Misdemeanors involving the unlawful temporary taking or use of another person's property: These legal proceedings must commence within 30 days of the offense. 

Exceptions to the Statute of Limitations

There are instances where the statute of limitations can be tolled, or paused, thereby extending the time prosecutors have to bring a case. This can happen if: 

  • The accused is out of state or has concealed themselves: If a suspect flees Alabama with the intent to avoid prosecution, the statute of limitations clock stops running until they return to the state. This ensures that individuals cannot evade justice simply by crossing state lines. 

  • Crimes are discovered later: In some cases, the clock starts not from the date of the offense but from the date it was discovered, especially for crimes that are not immediately apparent, such as certain types of fraud. 

  • Unknown identity of defendant: If the identity of the perpetrator remains unknown due to a lack of evidence or an ongoing investigation, the statute of limitations may be tolled until the suspect is identified. This allows prosecutors to take the necessary time to gather conclusive evidence. 

Obtain Skilled Legal Support

While the concept of a statute of limitations is ultimately straightforward (that a case must be brought within a certain time frame or forfeited), it can be quite complicated depending on the specific circumstances of each individual case.  

This is one of the many reasons why it is essential to have experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense representation. At the Kesling Law Firm, our attorney is proud to represent those facing charges throughout Baldwin County, Alabama, and the Gulf Coast, including Orange Beach, Gulf Shores, Josephine, Foley, Elberta, Summerdale, Robertsdale, and beyond.   

If you or a loved one are involved in a criminal case and need to understand how the statute of limitations affects you, call the Kesling Law Firm today to schedule a consultation.