In the U.S., defendants have a right to due process under the law. They also have the right to a fair trial. When crimes are not prosecuted within a judicious timeframe, it can be difficult for the defendant to prove his or her innocence, as evidence, for instance, may no longer exist.
This is one of the main reasons there is a statute of limitations on many crimes. In a nutshell, the statute of limitations prevents many individuals from being prosecuted, tried, or punished once the time limit has passed.
However, statute of limitations on criminal cases are critical not only to the defendant but to the victim, as well. For instance, many sexual offense survivors do not report the crime right away. It some cases, it can be years or decades later. Knowing this, lawmakers around the country in recent years, including Colorado legislators, have expanded the statute of limitations for sexual crimes.
Colorado Criminal Statute of Limitations
The severity of the crime often reflects the length of the statute of limitations. Let’s take a look at Colorado’s criminal statute of limitations: C.R.S. 16-5-401
Not all crimes have a statute of limitations, and for good reason. The most serious crimes do not have one. That means they can be prosecuted indefinitely. These crimes include:
Murder and attempt, conspiracy, or solicitation to commit murder
Kidnapping and attempt, conspiracy, or solicitation to commit kidnapping
Sex Offenses against Children and attempt, conspiracy, or solicitation to commit sex offenses against children
Treason and attempt, conspiracy, or solicitation to commit treason
Forgery and attempt, conspiracy, or solicitation to commit forgery
Some felony sex offenses, such as felony sexual assault, must be prosecuted within 20 years after the crime or after the victim turns 18 years old.
There is no time limit to prosecute someone for felony sexual assault if the perpetrator is identified by DNA evidence and the crime was reported to a law enforcement agency within ten years of the offense taking place.
Certain felony sex offenses, such as unlawful sexual contact, must be prosecuted within ten years after the crime occurred.
Vehicular homicide is a class 3 or 4 felony. If a person operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol causes an accident that results in the death of someone else, it is a class 3 felony.
If a sober driver acts in a reckless manner that causes someone to die, it is a class 4 felony.
Penalties for vehicular homicide may include two to six year in prison, up to a half million dollar fine, and a probationary period upon parole.
Other felonies – These crimes are still considered serious and can result in lengthy prison terms and hefty fines. There’s a laundry list of felonies, but here are a few:
- Various classes of drug felonies
- Failing to register as a sex offender (class 6)
- False imprisonment (class 5)
- Manslaughter (class 4)
- First-degree burglary (class 3)
- Racketeering (class 2)
Misdemeanors – Misdemeanors are less serious crimes than felonies. Penalties include probation, up to 24 months of jail time, and up to $5,000 fines. The punishment depends on the crime and what class the misdemeanor falls under: class 1, 2, or 3.
- Theft (between $750 and $2,000 value) (class 1)
- Second-degree arson (damage less than $1,000) (class 2)
- Disorderly conduct (class 3)
Class 1 and 2 misdemeanor traffic offenses
These traffic offenses include:
- Exceeding construction zone speed limits by 25 mph
- Driving without a valid driver license
Penalties can include, up to a year in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.
Petty offenses – Petty offenses are minor crimes that result in short jail sentences and small fines.
Petty offenses include:
- Theft (less than $50)
- Third-degree criminal trespass
- Public indecency
Pause in the Criminal Statute of Limitations
What happens when a criminal suspect is on the lam? Colorado law takes into account offenders who have fled the state. A statute of limitations can be tolled, or in legal terms paused, if a defendant is out of state.
Some criminals will go into hiding to avoid prosecution. Tolling helps prevent that. By pausing the statute of limitations, the offender cannot shirk legal consequences for the crime.
Now, tolling doesn’t last forever. In Colorado, the statute of limitations can be tolled up to five years. C.R.S. § 16-5-401(2)
Let’s look at an example:
John flees the scene of a car accident that leaves one person dead. In Colorado, the statute of
limitations to prosecute a vehicular homicide case is five years. After the accident, John moved.
He didn’t return to Colorado for seven years.
John had moved on from the accident, but his statute of limitations did not. John faces
prosecution since the statute of limitations was not running down while he was away.
Robinson & Henry, P.C. | Criminal Defense Attorneys
As you can see, Colorado’s criminal statute of limitations is lengthy, and it can be confusing. If you’ve been charged with a crime, you need an expert criminal defense attorney.
Robinson & Henry’s criminal defense attorneys are up to speed on the state’s ever changing criminal statutes, including how long the state has to prosecute.
Let us help you build a strong defense. Schedule your case assessment online or call (303) 688-0944 and learn more about the criminal statute of limitations.