If you're involved in an incident for which you could potentially be charged with a crime, you may be worried about what the future holds for you. You're probably aware that you can be arrested and charged with a crime at a later date. For instance, you've probably heard that intoxicated drivers who are involved in single-car accidents can be arrested once a forensics team has successfully connected them to the incident. In many cases, such an arrest can occur many weeks after the initial incident. However, you may be unclear as to how much time may elapse before you're no longer eligible to be taken into custody under any circumstances.
These temporal limits on criminal bookings are collectively known as "statutes of limitations." Since every class of crime has a different statute of limitations, it's difficult to make sweeping generalizations about these rules. The amount of time that the authorities in your area can wait to charge you with a specific crime may vary in accordance with the severity of the crime, the circumstances under which it occurred, and the specific rules and regulations in your legal jurisdiction.
Every state maintains its own rules regarding statutes of limitations. In most states, district attorneys have one year to file charges for simple misdemeanors and two years to file charges for gross misdemeanors. Some states may permit longer intervals: For instance, Kansas gives its district attorneys five years to file gross misdemeanor charges.
In most states, felonies must be charged within five years of the date on which they occurred. In certain jurisdictions, very serious felonies like aggravated assault and rape may be governed by even longer statutes of limitations.
Some serious crimes may not be governed by statutes of limitations. For instance, there is no statute of limitations for murder or treason charges. If you're suspected of either of these crimes, the state or federal authorities responsible for prosecuting your case don't have to worry about adhering to a deadline as they compile evidence against you.
This is why local and state police departments maintain "cold case" files for serious crimes. When new evidence comes to light, cases that aren't governed by statutes of limitations can be reopened. In fact, many prominent assassins and serial killers have been called to account for their crimes after being identified by DNA analysis techniques that were unavailable to the law enforcement authorities who conducted the initial investigations against them.