A statute of limitations is
generally a law defining the maximum amount of time
after a crime or civil grievance that legal action
may be taken against the perpetrator. Statutes
exist in both the criminal code and the civil code
for such limitations also known as periods of
To illustrate, it is common for
states to have a statute of limitations requiring
that lesser crimes or misdemeanors may only be
prosecuted within three years of the date of the
crime. After the three year period has passed,
the person responsible for the misdemeanor cannot be
prosecuted if proceedings have not already begun.
A similar statue of limitation for a breach of
contract might allow for civil action to commence
only within the six years after the breach.
There are similar statutes
limiting the period in which a creditor may bring
action against a non-paying debtor. The time
frame of the limitation may begin anew should the
debtor acknowledge the debt with partial payment or
agree to waive protection from the statute.
Some extreme crimes, such as
murder, do not have a statute of limitations in many
states. A person committing murder in 2007
could conceivably be found and brought to justice in
2050 or beyond. Murder is such a grievous
crime that it is felt no one should be allowed to
get away with it. Courts have even ruled that some
acts of pollution do not fall under the protection
of the laws of limitation from prosecution.
The time limitation on the crime
or infraction normally begins when the event in
question occurs. However, sometimes the
limitation will not begin to run until the action
creating an infraction reveals itself. An
example would be a product defect causing injury
that turned up long after a product was
manufactured. Some cases even involve
litigation over the exact date that the time
limitation should begin to run.
In real estate law there is a
statute of limitations known as a statute of repose.
This statute limits the amount of time that building
or property defects or hazards may be brought to
litigation or the owner prosecuted for neglect.
Defects or hazards that should be obvious, such as a
hole in the ground are treated differently than
hidden problems such as an electrical wiring defect.