In Florida, if the state believes a person has committed a crime, there is going to be a statute of limitations attached to that case. The statute of limitations in Florida means that the state has a certain period of time from the date the crime was committed to prosecute the case. With some exceptions, if the state does not prosecute the case within the required period of time, the criminal defense lawyer can file a motion to dismiss the charges. The number of years required by the Florida statute of limitations varies depending on the criminal charge, but two to four years is fairly common.
For instance, if the state believes a person committed a misdemeanor crime and four years passes before the state arrests the suspect, that would likely be a statute of limitations issue if the suspect has been living in the state of Florida for all or most of that time. The state is obligated to conduct a diligent search to find the suspect and bring charges against him in a timely manner. The state can check driver’s license records, utility records, traffic tickets and other methods to locate a suspect living in Florida. The reason behind the statute of limitations is that a suspect has a constitutional right to defend him/herself against criminal charges. If the state delays and takes too long to prosecute a suspect, witnesses may disappear or forget what happened which could compromise a defendant’s ability to present a defense.
There are exceptions to the statute of limitations, however. Another way to say this is that certain events may toll the statute of limitations, or stop the time from running. For instance, the state is not required to search for a person who is out of the state of Florida for an extended period of time. Therefore, if a suspect allegedly commits a misdemeanor crime in 2010 and then leaves Florida for three years and is ultimately arrested for the crime in 2014. The defendant may not be able to use the statute of limitations to dismiss the case.
The state often does not do their job when it comes to diligently searching for suspects who are in Florida within a reasonable period of time. At Lasnetski Gihon Law, we often get calls from people who find out they have outstanding warrants in Florida from years ago. We ask some questions and find out they have been in Florida for years, or at least long enough for the statute of limitations to run. Sometimes, they have been issued traffic citations and had other encounters with the police while the warrants were outstanding, yet they were not arrested. In those cases, we can often get the criminal cases dismissed based on the statute of limitations. If you think you might have an old warrant for your arrest and the statute of limitations might be a defense in your case, feel free to contact us for a free consultation.