Penal Code 802 PC | Statute of Limitations for Misdemeanors
Penal Code 802 PC | Statute of Limitations for Misdemeanors in California
If you’ve been charged with a misdemeanor in California, it’s important to understand the statute of limitations – which is the deadline for prosecutors to file charges against you. The statute of limitations for misdemeanors is governed by Penal Code 802 PC in California law.
What is the Statute of Limitations for Misdemeanors in California?
Under Penal Code 802 PC, the statute of limitations for misdemeanors in California is generally 1 year. This means prosecutors have 1 year from the date the misdemeanor was allegedly committed to file charges against the defendant.
There are certain exceptions though where the statute of limitations may be extended or tolled (paused). For example, the statute of limitations:
- Extends to 3 years if the offense involves fraud or breach of fiduciary duty.
- Extends to 3 years if the offense involves the concealment of a material fact related to the investigation.
- Is tolled if the defendant is out of state for any reason after the offense is committed.
The statute of limitations is an important protection for defendants against overly delayed prosecution. Evidence and witness memories fade over time, so it prevents prejudice against the defendant. However, prosecutors still have quite a bit of time (1 year) to build their misdemeanor case under Penal Code 802 PC.
How Does the 1-Year Statute of Limitations Work?
Let’s take a look at some examples to understand how the 1-year statute of limitations works for misdemeanors:
- John commits a misdemeanor battery on January 1, 2022. Prosecutors have until January 1, 2023 to file charges against John.
- Amy shoplifts from a store on March 15, 2022. Prosecutors must file charges by March 15, 2023.
- Bob assaults someone on December 31, 2022. Charges must be filed by December 31, 2023.
So in each case, the statute of limitations expires 1 year after the date the alleged misdemeanor was committed. This gives prosecutors 365 days to build their case and file charges.
What Happens if the Statute of Limitations Expires?
If prosecutors fail to file charges by the 1-year deadline under Penal Code 802 PC, the statute of limitations expires. At that point, the defendant can no longer be criminally prosecuted for the offense.
An expired statute of limitations is an absolute bar to prosecution. Therefore, if you’ve been charged with a misdemeanor beyond the 1-year time limit, your criminal defense attorney can file a motion to dismiss the charges. The charges must then be dismissed by law.
How Does the Statute of Limitations Differ for Felonies?
The statute of limitations for felonies is much longer than for misdemeanors. Under Penal Code 799, the statute of limitations for felonies is generally 3 years.
However, certain serious felonies like murder, embezzlement of public funds, and sex crimes have no statute of limitations at all. So charges for these offenses can be filed at any time, no matter how long ago the crime occurred.
When Does the Statute of Limitations Start Running?
An important question is when does the clock start running on the 1-year statute of limitations for a misdemeanor? The statute begins running on the date the offense was committed, or discovery of the offense is made by law enforcement – whichever is later.
Let’s say police discover evidence that a misdemeanor was committed 6 months ago. The statute of limitations would start on the date of discovery – not the date the offense occurred. So prosecutors would still have the full 1 year to file charges from that discovery date.
How Can the Statute of Limitations Be Extended or Tolled?
As mentioned above, there are certain exceptions that can extend or toll (pause) the statute of limitations under Penal Code 802 PC. Some key examples include:
- Fraud or breach of fiduciary duty – The statute of limitations extends to 3 years if the misdemeanor involves fraud or breach of fiduciary duty.
- Concealment – The statute of limitations extends to 3 years if the defendant actively concealed a material fact related to the investigation.
- DNA evidence – The statute of limitations is tolled if DNA evidence is analyzed that implicates the defendant.
- Out of state – The statute of limitations is tolled if the defendant is out of California for any reason after committing the offense.
These exceptions give prosecutors some additional time to file charges if the defendant’s own actions or evidence delayed discovery of the crime.
What Happens if Charges Are Re-filed?
Sometimes prosecutors are forced to dismiss charges because they are unable to proceed to trial within the statutory deadline. Under Penal Code 1387 PC, they are allowed to re-file the same charges one time if they dismissed the case before the statute of limitations expired.
But they still must re-file within the original statute of limitations. For example, if they dismissed a misdemeanor case 6 months after charges were filed, they have 6 months remaining to re-file charges based on the same offense conduct.
Common Misdemeanor Offenses in California
Some of the most common misdemeanors that are subject to the 1-year statute of limitations include:
- DUI – Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- Assault – Attempting to commit a violent injury on someone else.
- Battery – Any willful and unlawful use of force or violence against someone else.
- Theft – Stealing someone else’s property.
- Vandalism – Intentionally destroying or damaging property.
- Trespassing – Entering or remaining on someone else’s property without permission.
Of course, many other offenses like minor drug crimes, firearm violations, sex crimes and domestic violence can also be charged as misdemeanors.
Fighting Misdemeanor Charges
If you are charged with a California misdemeanor, it’s critical to retain legal counsel immediately. A skilled criminal defense lawyer can often negotiate with prosecutors to reduce or dismiss the charges against you. This avoids the consequences of a conviction – such as hefty fines, probation, or jail time.
An attorney can also raise any legal defenses that apply in your case. For example, they may argue you were wrongfully accused or acted in self-defense. Or they may claim there was an illegal search and seizure that violated your rights. Any viable defense must be asserted before the statute of limitations expires.
Contact a Defense Attorney
Don’t wait until it’s too late – call an attorney as soon as you learn you are under investigation or have been charged with a misdemeanor in California. The statute of limitations under Penal Code 802 PC is ticking. An experienced lawyer can protect your rights and future.