Criminal prosecution, in any case, requires that the people involved comply with something called a “statute of limitations.” This is a law enacted by a state legislature or Congress that bars prosecution of a defendant beyond a certain time limit from the date the alleged offense took place.
There are numerous justifications for statutes of limitations. Most contend they preserve a defendant’s Fifth Amendment right to both due process of law and their Sixth Amendment right to a fair and impartial trial.
Some challenge these justifications on the grounds that a criminal should not illicitly benefit from a delay in obtaining the evidence to convict them. Defenders of the statutes counter that defendants are presumed innocent until they are proven guilty. There is also a balancing potential advantage for the people in deliberately delaying prosecution until the defendant is incapable of mounting an adequate defense.
In the case of various drug crimes, the applicable statutes depend on a number of factors, including the state where the crime is being prosecuted, the home address of the defendant and the nature of the offense.
General Statute of Limitations
In a state like Minnesota, where criminal defense attorney Justin Schiks practices, the statutes of limitations for drug crimes vary depending on whether the offense is charged as a felony or misdemeanor. For felony offenses, the statute is generally three years from the time the offense is alleged. This means that a prosecution must commence within that period of time unless the statute is tolled for some reason.
Generally speaking, it is very rare for a prosecutor to successfully challenge a statute of limitations. This is one of the many protections given to criminal defendants to make certain they are not put in a situation where the prosecution has been able to preserve their evidence while the defense is left with no way to prepare their case. Evidence can be lost, memories can fade and witnesses can become unavailable for a variety of reasons. This is why it can be considered unfair for a prosecution to commence long after the alleged offense.
Exceptions to the Statute of Limitations
Statutes of limitation can be tolled, or paused, under certain circumstances. While a statute is paused, the time that elapses is not counted against the term during which a prosecution can commence. The most common reason a statute is tolled is if the suspect leaves the jurisdiction, or state, in which the alleged offense was committed. In Minnesota, the time during which some evidence is tested can be grounds to toll the statute. If a suspect or defendant is enrolled in a pre-trial diversion program, that can also be grounds for same.
Occasionally, a legislature will lengthen or reduce the term of a statute of limitations. However, based on a ruling by the Supreme Court in Stogner v. California, retroactive prosecution of a suspect based on altering the statute of limitations that was in effect at the time of the alleged offense was ruled an unconstitutional ex-post facto law. Once the statute expires, even an act of the legislature cannot restore the people’s power to prosecute.
In any criminal prosecution, it is vital to have the assistance of experienced and knowledgeable counsel. An attorney like Justin Schiks of JS Defense can be of tremendous assistance in navigating legal issues like statutes of limitations and the various means of mounting a defense against drug charges.
For more information please visit our site.