As criminal defense lawyers here in Jacksonville, Florida, we get a lot of calls from people who learn they have a warrant or a capias from a charge filed against them many years ago in Florida. When we get those calls about old, pending criminal cases, the first thing we do is look to see if the case should be dismissed based on the statute of limitations.
The purpose of the statute of limitations in a criminal case is to force the state to prosecute their case quickly so that a defendant does not have to defend his/her case after a long period of time when memories fade, evidence is lost and witnesses are difficult to find. The courts are supposed to interpret the statute of limitations laws in favor of the defendant.
In Florida, the statute of limitations starts on the day of the alleged offense and ends on the day the prosecution begins. The time period can toll, or stop, based on certain intervening events. The time limits under the various Florida criminal laws are as follows: first degree felonies – 4 years, other felonies- 3 years, first degree misdemeanors- 2 years and other misdemeanors- 1 year.
When a criminal defense attorney files a motion to dismiss based on the statute of limitations, the state has the burden of proving that they conducted a diligent search to locate the defendant after the charges were filed. If the defendant is out of state during that time, the state can argue the statute of limitations did not apply during that time period. However, the law still requires the state to prove that they diligently searched for the defendant, wherever he was. The older the case is, the harder it is for the state to do that. If the state cannot prove they diligently searched for the defendant and the appropriate time period has run, the criminal case should be dismissed.