What is a Statute of Limitations?

A statute of limitation refers to a law limiting the length of time that legal processes – either criminal or civil can be brought after an accusation of committing an offence. Certain statutes are defined in legislation, while others are part of the common law.

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After the time limit stipulated in a statute of limitations has run out, no civil or criminal proceedings connected to the alleged crime could be filed against the accused offender. The period defined by statutes of limitations can be deemed to begin at the time of the incident or the day the crime was first discovered.

There are certain instances where the time limit for a statute of limitations can be suspended for a specific duration of time. For instance, when an offence is committed against an individual who is a minor, until the person attains the age that is legally permitted.

Statutes of limitation restrict most civil actions. However, serious criminal offences like murder or sexual crimes, might not be covered by any limitations period. The statutes vary between states within the United States.


  • The term “statute of limitation” is the law that regulates the time frame of legal action, whether criminal or civil, that can be taken against the defendant.
  • The reason such statutes exist is to shield the defendants against unfair legal action For instance in the event of a long period the defendant might no longer have possession of crucial evidence relevant to their defence.
  • Limitations statutes have a long and rich history in specific legislation and as a component of customary law.

Real-World Example

For instance, on Feb. 14 on Feb. 14, 2019 New York Governor Andrew Cuomo adopted the Child Victims Act, legislation which extends the statute of limitations for molestation of children. This extension allows victims to pursue legal action in the event of a criminal case and provides a one-time 12-month trial window for adults of all ages who suffered abuse as children.

According to the law, victims can file legal action against the perpetrators of their abuse up to age 28, a change from the old cutoff of 23. They can also make civil claims until they are 55. The law also gives a one-year time frame for anyone of any age to file lawsuits. It was one of the most difficult issues preventing the law from becoming law.

Why Are There Statutes of Limitations?

While the victims of an criminal or civil offence may feel that they’re being denied justice due to statutes of limitations that prevent the prosecution of the offender, There are a variety of common-sense reasons for having statutes of limitations. The most important reason for establishing the statute of limitations was to stop potential defendants from facing unfair prosecution or other legal proceedings.

The main reason for introducing statutes of limitation is that, following the passage of time pertinent evidence could have disappeared. If that is the case, it may disadvantage both the prosecutor and defense, and result in an unfair decision.

Particularly important would be eyewitness testimony, particularly if the witness did not make a formal statement by the witness at or during the violation. People’s memories change, and they become less reliable with time It is absurd to assume that witnesses will remember clearly particulars from an incident which could have occurred years earlier.

It is widely believed that it’s unfair to file a lawsuit against an accused offender for a crime that they have done in the past. This aspect of limiting the possibility of prosecution is generally applied to civil issues as opposed to serious criminal offences.

History of Statutes of Limitations

Limitations statutes have existed since the time of the ancient era. In the early days of Greece, each crime, excluding murder was subject to a five-year statute of limitations. The statutes were also written in ancient Roman law.

Since the time of the Roman Empire, varying statutes of limitations were either made into the laws of different nations or were part of common law. The problem is that English laws, upon which much of the current western jurisprudence was based, could not comprehensively codify limitations statutes until the 17 century. Century.

The amount of time allowed by statutes of limitation varies greatly. While statutes of limitations for serious criminal offences can cover extremely long periods, statutes that deal with things like the settlement or administration of estates could only cover the shortest amount of time, maybe six months or a year.

In business transactions, under the Uniform Commercial Code, parties to an agreement to sell goods can contractually agree to limit legal proceedings in connection with sales to a period that is as short as one year. However, they cannot contractually consent to extend the duration of the liability beyond current, relevant statutes of limitation.