Everything You Need to Know About Statute of Limitations in Florida

September 29, 2021 Criminal Defense

In criminal cases, Florida’s prosecutors have limitations for filing criminal charges against the accused, referred to as “statute of limitations.” The time limit the State has to charge the accused after the commission of a crime will vary depending on the nature and severity of the charge, and some especially heinous crimes do not have any time limit. Essentially, this time limit is a check on the prosecuting branch of the judiciary and sets a time-based restriction on how long the prosecutor can wait to file official criminal charges after someone has committed an offense. Florida’s statute of limitations is set out in Section 775.15 of the Florida Statutes.

When Does the Statute of Limitations Time Limit Start to “Run”?

Under Florida law, once a criminal offense is considered “committed,” the statute of limitations starts to run the day after commission. An offense is considered committed “either when every element has occurred or, if a legislative purpose to prohibit a continuing course of conduct plainly appears, at the time when the course of conduct or the defendant’s complicity therein is terminated.”

How Do You Know What Statute of Limitations Applies to Your Case?

In order to ensure you are not the subject of improper prosecution due to a statute of limitations issue, you must find out which statute of limitations period applies to your charges. Since the statute of limitations varies depending on the charge, and some charges do not carry a time restriction, it is vital to stay informed about these limitations. The general rule, except in specific circumstances is:


Third-Degree Felony Charge

The statute of limitations for a third-degree felony charge is three years.

Second-Degree Felony Charge

The statute of limitations for a second-degree felony charge is three years.

First-Degree Felony Charge

The statute of limitations for a first-degree felony charge is four years.

Life Felony Charge

There is no statute of limitations for life felony charges.

Felony Charges that Result in Death

There is no statute of limitations for felony charges that result in death.

Capital Felony Charge

There is no statute of limitations for capital felony charges.


Second-Degree Misdemeanor

The statute of limitations for a second-degree misdemeanor charge is one year.

First-Degree Misdemeanor

The statute of limitations for a first-degree misdemeanor charge is charge is two years.


Violation of Probation Charge

A violation of probation charge has no statute of limitations.

A Theft Charge

The statute of limitations for theft charges is generally five years.

Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation of Elderly Adults or Disabled Adults Charges

These types of charges generally carry a five-year statute of limitations.

Exceptions to the Statute of Limitations in Florida

The statute of limitations in Florida has the ability to “toll,” meaning that, under specific circumstances, the time limit on the prosecutor’s office to bring formal charges can be paused or suspended. Pursuant to Section 95.051, Florida Statutes, some of these circumstances that can result in a “tolled” limitation include:

  • An out of state defendant,
  • A party with a legal disability that originated before the cause of action,
  • Service of legal documents, or criminal process, is not possible because the suspect provided false information,
  • The alleged victim is a minor and does not have a legal guardian or parent and has a disability, or a parent/guardian with an adverse interest,
  • DNA evidence was collected originally and can establish the identity of the defendant,
  • A sex offense has occurred against a minor,
  • The offense is based on fraud of the breach of a fiduciary duty, and
  • The crime relates to a public official’s misconduct.

How Do You Raise a Statute of Limitations Issue?

If you or a loved one believes that your case is barred from prosecution due to a statute of limitations issue, your counsel must raise the issue at trial court, or the issue might be considered waived for appeal. If defense counsel does effectively raise a statute of limitations issue in a Motion to Dismiss, the burden shifts to the prosecution to show that:

  • The charges against you or a loved one were filed within the appropriate statute of limitations designation, and
  • The prosecution performed an in-depth search for and service of process upon you or a loved one (the accused).

If the Motion to Dismiss is unsuccessful due to an improper trial court decision, then defense counsel can file a Petition for a Writ of Prohibition to an upper-level court for review. If this Writ is granted, then the State is barred from proceeding with the prosecution when the statute of limitations for the charged offense has expired.

In Smith v. State, the Supreme Court of Florida concluded that a statute of limitations claim has to be raised at the trial court level in order to preserve the issue for direct appeal. However, even if defense counsel fails to raise the issue (non-strategically) at the trial court level, Smith does not bar the accused from asserting a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel in a post-conviction motion under Rule 3.850 for failure to raise the statute of limitations issue.

History of Florida’ Criminal Statute of Limitations

When Florida still used common law, there existed no statute of limitations that set a time limit on when the prosecution could bring charges for a criminal offense. In explaining the purpose behind the statutes of limitation, the Second District Court of Appeal explained that:

The only purpose of a Statute limiting the time within which a criminal charge may be prosecuted is to protect every person from being interminably under the threat or cloud of possible criminal prosecution, which otherwise might be indefinitely delayed until the time when defense witnesses might die, disappear or otherwise become unavailable, judges would change office, or innumerable other time hazards might develop, which could conceivably defeat, or at least hamper, an otherwise good defense.

Since the implementation of the statutes of limitations, many court cases have come to analyze the nuanced issues therein. In Beyer v. State, the Fourth District Court of Appeal held that the statute of limitation that existed when a criminal offense was committed will be the time limit the generally controls. The court also held that the statute of limitations should be interpreted in the light most favorable for the defendant.

Tallahassee Criminal Defense Attorney

It is incredibly important to retain an experienced and knowledgeable Tallahassee criminal defense attorney that can identify any statute of limitations issues that could affect how you or a loved one’s case will be prosecuted and handled. Don Pumphrey and the members of the legal team at Pumphrey Law Firm have decades of experience defending Floridians against a wide array of criminal offenses and will ensure that your case is handled diligently and aggressively. Call us today at (850) 681 – 7777 or send an online message to discuss your case during an open and free consultation with an attorney in our legal team.

This article was written by Gabi D’Esposito

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