What Is a Statute of Limitations?

A statute of limitations is the maximum time set aside by law for persons who are involved in any dispute to fix these disputes or to begin the process of instituting legal action, this time is calculated particularly from the day the offense was carried out. Of the different jurisdictions and also based on the different offenses, the time limit for each offense may be different from one place to another. There are however some offenses that do not have any limitations because of the nature of the crime. In international law, there is no prescribed limitation period for certain crimes such as crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide, cases under these subheads can be brought at any time.

In some states for example statute of limitations for civil cases such as medical malpractice may be up to two years. Some criminal cases, on the other hand, do not have an expiry date such as murder and in some jurisdictions, some sexual offenses especially those involving minors, and other violent crimes like arson and kidnapping are without an expiry date, and legal action can be brought on such cases at any time. Some of these time frames are created by statutes while others are a result of common law doctrines. It is important to note that once the time frame for a statute has passed, there can be no more justice to be done in such a scenario. In certain cases, the time does not begin to count until a certain requirement is fulfilled for instance in some jurisdictions in the case of a minor, the clock does not begin to count until the minor reaches the age of majority.  In some civil cases such as cases concerning consumer debt, the statute of limitation can also apply to consumer debt because the law also provides a limited period within which creditors can collect on the debt owed them, this time limit is varied from state to state, however where a consumer makes payment on a time-barred debt, the clock would start ticking all over again.

Reasons for Statute of Limitation

Essentially, the main purpose for the presence of the statutes of limitations is not to deny the victims their rights or stifle their claim to justice; however seeing as justice is not only the exclusive right of the victim, it is also the right of the offender, thus one of the major reasons for the presence of the statutes of limitations is the fact that the defendant is protected from malicious or unfair legal action. The time that may have passed between the commission of the crime and the institution of the legal action, if it is beyond the time limit provided by law, creates a situation where the evidence to be presented has either been altered or has been lost and this may hinder both sides of the divide from reaching a fair and just judgment. For example, the testimony of an eyewitness is less credible over time and cannot be relied upon absolutely. Added to this is the idea that bringing a suit against a person for something they did a long time ago was just not the true idea of justice, this is as it applies to civil cases than to criminal cases. For criminal cases, despite the amount of time it takes, some persons have to be brought to justice for the crime they have committed. Statutes of limitations have been a thing throughout history, right back up to the time of the Roman empire, but were introduced to English law in the 17th Century. 

Statute of Limitations in the State of Georgia

In the state of Georgia, the same principles guiding the notion of Statute of limitations also apply, and even more so, here the statute of limitation for certain crimes is much longer than the limitation provided for other crimes, and as is the case, some crimes have no limitation period hence the prosecution can bring a case for those crimes at any time:

This article will draw a list of offenses and their prescribed limitation period in the state of Georgia. 

  • Where the crimes are not generally listed in the statute, there is a general period of limitation for these crimes and they will apply in the particular case. The general limitation period is listed below:
    • For felonies against victims that are younger than 18 years the period is 7 years;
    • For felonies where the punishment is a sentence of death or life imprisonment, the period is also 7 years;
    • For other felonies, the time limit is 4 years;
    • For misdemeanors, the time frame is 2 years 
  • For murder, there is no limitation in the time frame. 
  • For other capital crimes such as armed robbery, aircraft hijacking, and treason, the time limit is 7 years.
  • For manslaughter, the time limit is 7 years however where the victim is older than 18 years, the time limit is just 4 years.
  • For some crimes where the victim is younger than 16 years, there is no time limit; these crimes include; sex trafficking, rape, sodomy, cruelty to children in the first degree, child molestation that is not a misdemeanor, incest, and enticing a child for indecent purposes. 
  • In the cases of Rape, where the charge is forcible rape, no case can be brought till after 15 years of the incident, where the charge is sexual battery, the time limit is 7 years if the victim is younger than 18 years, where this is not the case, the crime would be limited to a period of 4 years. 
  • DNA Evidence: in the state of Georgia, the law allows the prosecution to bring a case at any time where the DNA evidence to be used is preserved and identifies the defendant. This applies to any of the following situations: armed robbery, kidnapping, rape, and aggravated offenses like child molestation, battery, and sodomy.
  • In public office misconduct; where a charge is brought against a defendant for misconduct while in public office, the time limit doesn’t start until the defendant is out of the office. 
  • Breach of trust/fiduciary duty; in a situation where a trustee or guardian breaches a fiduciary relationship by stealing the property of the beneficiary, the clock doesn’t start counting while the trustee is still holding that position. 
  • For crimes committed against elderly persons who are 65 years or older, the clock is paused until the crime or offense is discovered or the offense is reported whichever comes first. From that time the clock starts counting to a total of 15 years. 
  • In the case of a defendant who avoids prosecution, the law allows the prosecutor extra time to bring charges against the defendant, the clock will not start ticking for as long as the defendant on the run is not usually and publicly a resident of the state or if the defendant or the crime is not yet known. 


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